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David Foster, Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. David Foster, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

Research Interests: Hippocampus; Spatial representation; Navigation; Spatial learning; Memory; Learning; Neural ensemble mechanisms

Background

Dr. David J. Foster is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

An investigator who specializes in the neural ensemble mechanisms of learning and memory, Dr. Foster focuses on the nerve cells in the brain’s hippocampus region. His work has valuable clinical potential for treating patients who suffer from conditions such as Alzheimer''s disease, epilepsy, schizophrenia and age-related cognitive decline.

Dr. Foster is an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and was awarded the 2013 Freedman Prize Honorable Mention for Exceptional Basic Research. His work has been supported by grants from the Whitehall Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

He joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2008 and serves on the faculty of the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences, Brain Science Institute and Science of Learning Institute.

Dr. Foster earned his Ph.D. in computational neuroscience from Scotland’s University of Edinburgh and completed postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Titles

  • Associate Professor of Neuroscience

Departments / Divisions

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Foster Laboratory research focuses on how large populations (or “ensembles”) of neurons encode and process information in awake, behaving animals.

Investigators use high-density tetrode recording techniques to investigate the activity of neural ensembles during tasks that incorporate a variety of learning, memory, inference, planning, and decision-making demands.

Dr. Foster’s team currently is interested in how hippocampal ensembles in rodents process navigationally relevant information. They have found that precise sequences of neurons are activated repeatedly during behavior, reflecting memory for immediately preceding spatial experience.

Researchers in the Foster Lab are working to determine the:

  • cellular and molecular basis of this sequential activation, and how it relates to synaptic plasticity mechanisms
  • functional capabilities of sequential activation, particularly in terms of inferring and planning navigationally relevant trajectories
  • functional relevance of hippocampal sequential activation in guiding behavior—particularly how the hippocampus interfaces with brain regions involved in reward learning and reward-based decision making

Their work has potential clinical relevance for treating the many disorders that severely affect the hippocampus— including Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy; those that impact interfacing brain regions in the basal ganglia, such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease; and complex disorders such as schizophrenia which we study directly through the use of animal models.

Selected Publications

  1. Wu X, Foster DJ. "Hippocampal replay captures the unique topological structure of a novel environment." J Neurosci. 2014 May 7;34(19):6459-69. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3414-13.2014.
  2. Suh J, Foster DJ, Davoudi H, Wilson MA, Tonegawa S. "Impaired hippocampal ripple-associated replay in a mouse model of schizophrenia." Neuron. 2013 Oct 16;80(2):484-93. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.09.014.
  3. Pfeiffer BE, Foster DJ. "Hippocampal place-cell sequences depict future paths to remembered goals." Nature. 2013 May 2;497(7447):74-9. doi: 10.1038/nature12112. Epub 2013 Apr 17.
  4. Foster DJ, Knierim JJ. "Sequence learning and the role of the hippocampus in rodent navigation." Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2012 Apr;22(2):294-300. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2011.12.005. Epub 2012 Jan 7. Review.
  5. Foster DJ, Wilson MA. "Hippocampal theta sequences." Hippocampus. 2007;17(11):1093-9.

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Graduate Program Affiliation

Neuroscience Graduate Program

Activities & Honors

Honors

  • Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • NARSAD Young Investigator Grant, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, 2014
  • Klerman-Freedman Prize Honorable Mention for Exceptional Basic Research, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, 2013
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