Weifeng Xu

Weifeng Xu

Principal Investigator
Assistant Professor of Neuroscience

The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

77 Massachusetts Ave., Office: 46-4239
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: 617-715-5392

Website: weifengxu.mit.edu
EmailLinkedIn / ResearchGate


Weifeng Xu was born and raised in the northeastern part of China, and is the daughter of architectural engineers. She went to Peking University for her undergraduate education, major in Biophysics and Physiology in the College of Life Sciences. Weifeng Xu did her Ph.D study with Dr. Diane Lipscombe in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Brown University. Weifeng did her postdoctoral training with Dr. Robert Malenka at Stanford University School of Medicine.

For her doctoral thesis, she studied the biophysical and pharmacological properties of L-type voltage-gated calcium channels, a type of calcium channels involved in membrane excitation-gene expression coupling and other functions in neurons. She found novel properties of a sub-class of the L-type calcium channels, with a broader activation regime and lower sensitivity to classical L-type calcium channel blockers. These findings suggest significant contribution of these channels in neuronal function in subthreshold membrane potential regime and underestimation of these channels contribution using traditional pharmacological blockade. Since then, many research groups have found that this sub-class of calcium channels play an important role in regulating neuronal firing and mediating calcium influx in different types of neurons in many brain regions.

After graduation, Weifeng went to Stanford University to continue her postdoctoral training with Dr. Robert Malenka, a world-renowned synaptic physiologist. In a collaborative effort, Weifeng and another researcher, Dr. Oliver Schluter, developed the molecular replacement system that allows to knockdown the expression of an endogenous gene while simultaneously expressing exogenous proteins of interest, using a virus-mediated gene transfer system.

Using this system, they studied a neuronal protein PSD-95, an abundant protein in the postsynaptic density of the excitatory glutamatergic synapse, and identified specific functional domains in PSD-95 in regulating synaptic strength and mediating activity-dependent changes of synaptic strength, i.e. synaptic plasticity. They established that PSD-95 is not only a structural component of the postsynaptic density, but also a scaffold for signaling complex critical for the expression of a form of synaptic plasticity, long-term depression (LTD). Their studies suggest that different family members of PSD-95 family proteins exert different function due to the diversity in their protein structure. This structural diversity allows potential different signaling complex formation, thereby determines the functional diversity at synapses, and the differential expression mechanism of synaptic plasticity.

Profile Video

Our goal is to understand mechanisms of neural plasticity essential for information processing and storage in the brain and their dysfunction in diseases such as autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and mental retardation.

We are interested in understanding how signaling scaffolds in the postsynaptic compartment of neurons organize and orchestrate signaling events that lead to the expression of synaptic plasticity important for learning and memory.

We are also interested in understanding how regulating calcium homeostasis via activity-dependent mechanisms modulates synaptic plasticity and neuronal excitability; consequently modulate animals’ learning ability.

Curriculum Vitae


  • Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Brown University, 2002
  • B.Sc. in Physiology and Biophysics, Peking University, China, 1997


  • Assistant Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, MA, 2009-current
  • Postdoctoral Fellow with Robert C. Malenka, Stanford University, School of Medicine, 2005-2008
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate with Robert C. Malenka, Stanford University, School of Medicine, 2002-2005
  • Ph.D. studies with Diane Lipscombe, Neuroscience Program, Brown University, 1997-2002

Honors and Awards

  • Whitehead Career Development Professorship, MIT, 2010
  • Pathway to Independence Award for New Investigators (K99/R00). NIMH, 2007
  • Ruth L. Kirschestein National Research Service Award Research Fellow. NIMH. Grant was selected as an example for workshops in the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, 2005
  • Brown University, Honorable Mention for the Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award, 2002
  • Boston Area Neuroscience Group Travel Grant for Society for Neuroscience, 2000
  • Brown University Fellowship, 1997
  • Peking University, Graduate with distinction, 1997


Visit the Publications Page for a complete list of publications

Invited Talks and Seminars

  • Brown University, Department of Neuroscience, 2008
  • Cold Spring Harbor, 2008
  • MIT, the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, 2008
  • Yale University, School of Medicine, the CNNR program, 2008
  • University of Pittsburgh, Department of Neuroscience, 2008
  • Stanley Center for Psychiatry Diseases at Broad Institute, 2009
  • Institute of Biophysics and Peking University joint seminar, China, Aug. 2012
  • MIT MCN seminar speaker Sept. 2012
  • Picower Institute 10th Anniversary Symposium Speaker, Nov. 2012
  • Volume Institute, Dec. 2013

Funding Sources

  • K99/R00, MH080310, NIMH, ‘Signaling Scaffold of NMDA receptor-depndent long-term plasticity”, 2007-2012
  • Simons Seed Grant, co-PI with Mark Bear, “Singaling Pathways in mGluR-dependent synaptic plasticity”, 2009-2010
  • Stanley Center for Psychiatric Diseases Grant, Broad Institute, “Function and Regulation of neurogranin”, 2010-2011
  • MIT Research Support Committee, “Monitoring Calmodulin activation at central synapses”, 2010-2011
  • Picower Innovation Initiative Fund
  • Picower Neurodengeration Neurological Disorder Fund

Student Supervision

MIT UROP Students

  • Khristian Erich Bauer-Rowe (IAP and spring of 2010 class of 2013)
  • Alissa Totman (02/2010-02/2012, class of 2013)
  • Yun Xue(spring of 2011, class of 2012)
  • Rebbeca Shi (spring, summer of 2012, IAP and spring, fall of 2013, class of 2015)
  • Francisco X. Pena (IAP and spring, fall of 2013, class of 2015)
  • Jin W Liu (fall of 2013, class of 2017)
  • Lei Ding (fall of 2013, class of 2017)

Summer Students

  • Oluwatimilehin Ajayi (07-08/2009, Rochester, MSRP program)

Special Students

  • Rajeev Rikhye (09/2009-06/2010 Imperial College of London)

Ph.D. Students Supervised

  • Hongik Huang (Chemistry) Neurogranin regulates calcium/calmodulin dynamics and influences synaptic plasticity. 06/2010-present, In progress
  • Sebastian Templet (BCS) Circuit plasticity, influence on Hippocampal-Prefrontal Synchrony 04/2013-present, In progress

Postdoc Researcher Supervised

  • Mingna Liu Ph.D., 03/2009-05/2012 Currently Postdoc Researcher at Northwestern University
  • Patrick Redman Ph.D., 01/2010-10/2011 Currently Medical Science Liaison at Questcor Pharmaceuticals
  • Kendrick Jones Ph.D., 10/2009-present, In progress
  • Kyung-Seok Han Ph.D., 03/2014


Teaching Outside MIT

  • Teaching Assistant, Electrophysiology Lab Course, Brown University, RI, 1998-1999

Teaching at MIT

9.16, Neurophysiology (undergrad)

  • Fall of 2013, instructor

9.12, Neurobiology Lab (undergrad, CIM)

  • Fall of 2009/10, co-instructor (with Carlos Lois), 6 lectures, 12 lab sessions
  • Fall of 2010/11, co-instructor (with Yingxi Lin), 6 lectures, 12 lab sessions
  • Fall of 2011/12, co-instructor (with Yingxi Lin, Kendrick Jones), 3 lectures 6 lab sessions
  • Fall of 2012/13, co-instructor (with Feng Zhang), 6 lectures, 12 lab sessions

9.015 / 7.65, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience I (grad, lecture)

  • Fall of 2010/11, co-instructor four lectures
  • Fall of 2011/12, co-instructor two lectures

9.301J / 7.98J, Neural plasticity: Learning and Memory (grad, lecture)

  • Spring of 2009/10, co-instructor two lectures
  • Spring of 2010/11, co-instructor two lectures
  • Spring of 2011/12, co-instructor two lectures
  • Spring of 2012/13, co-instructor three lectures
  • Spring of 2013/14, co-instructor three lectures

MIT Committees and Service

Institute Service

  • Commencement Ceremony, 2012
  • GWAMIT mentor, 2012
  • Student Faculty Dinner, fall of 2012, spring of 2013
  • Graduation Lunch, 2013
  • MISTI GSF evaluation committee, Sept 2013

Departmental Service

  • Building 46 holiday party committee, 2009
  • Picower Symposium committee, 2010
  • Picower Representative for 2010/11 BCS colloquium committee, 2011
  • Coordinate Plastic Lunch Seminar Series of PILM, 2009-2012
  • Coordinate Picower-hosted BCS colloquium Series, 2009-present
  • Two Photon Steering Committee, 2011-present
  • Picower Faculty Search Committee, 2010, 2011, 2013
  • Guest Speaker at Picower Postdoc Association Meeting
    • Chalk talk practice, 2011
    • K99/R00 Application, 2012
  • Grant Review for Simons Center for Social Brain Round 2 funding, 2012
  • Departmental Seminar Committee, 2013-present
  • Departmental Undergraduate Dinner, 2010, 2012

Ph.D. Thesis and Qualifying Exam Committees at MIT

  • Jennifer Leslie (2005, Elly Nedivi, defended Dec 2011)
  • Susan Su (2006, Li-Huei Tsai, defended May 2012)
  • Benjamin David Auerbach (2006, Mark Bear, defended April 2013)
  • Mike Sidorov (2008, Mark Bear, defended Jan 2014)
  • Joshua Sarinana (2006, Susumu Tonegawa, defended June 2011)
  • Rodrigo Garcia (2008, Mriganka Sur)
  • Chia-Wei Lin (2005, Carlos Lois, defensed April 2010)
  • Rachel Schecter (2008, Mark Bear)
  • Laura Stoppel (2011, Mark Bear)
  • Robin Stevens(Biology, Troy Littleton, defended Nov 2011)
  • Danielle Feldman (2010, Mriganka Sur)
  • Christine Eckhardt (2011, Kay Tye)

Undergraduate Advisees

  • Yun Xue
  • Carmen Ng
  • Alissa Totman
  • Hamsika Chandrasekar
  • Ximin J. Sun
  • Reguli Elisabeth Granger
  • JooHee Choi
  • Ehiaghe Ediale
  • Abra H Chen

External Services

Community Services

  • NA

Thesis and Qualifying Exam Committees outside MIT

  • Hyun Jae Pi (Brandies, John Lisman, defensed July 31st 2009)

Membership in Professional Organizations

  • Society for Neuroscience

Grant Reviewer

  • NIH, Special Emphasis Panel (SEP), Oct. 2011
  • Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, 2012
  • NIH, Special Emphasis Panel ZRG1 F03B-A (20) March 2013, June 2013, Nov 2013
  • Wellcome Trust, March 2013
  • India Alliance System, Biomedical Research Fellowship Program for India
  • NIH ad hoc, Synapses, Cytoskeleton and Trafficking Study Session (SYN), June 2013
  • NIH, K99 study session, Nov 2013

Journal Editor

  • NA

Journal Reviewer

  • Brain Research
  • Journal of Clinical Investigation

Pending Support

  • R01 Grant
  • Whitehall Foundation