Dr. Ofer Yizhar

Department of Neurobiology | Weizmann Institute of Science

Dr. Ofer Yizhar was awarded a BSc in biology with distinction at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2001 and a PhD in neurobiology with distinction at Tel Aviv University in 2008. He did his postdoctoral research at Stanford University in California from 2008 to 2011.  In 2011, he joined the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Dr. Yizhar focuses his investigations on unraveling the mysteries of the prefrontal cortex. Prefrontal cortical regions contribute to many higher brain functions, including language, working memory, emotional regulation, and goal-directed behavior. This is also one of the regions most strongly implicated in several types of psychiatric diseases.

To investigate the physiology of neural circuits, his lab uses a technical approach called optognetics, which gives scientists new tools for directly investigating neuron functions. He played a pivotal role in the development of many of the optogenetic tools being used today worldwide in brain research. Through the use of light-activated ion channels, pumps and receptors, optogenetics allows temporally and spatially precise control over the activity of defined circuit elements. By perturbing the physiology of a circuit, Dr. Yizhar can learn about its function and establish causal links between patterns of circuit activity and animal behavior. Dr. Yizhar uses this method to test hypotheses regarding the neural circuit dysfunction associated with autism and schizophrenia. His research has vast implications for the study and treatment of brain-related disease including schizophrenia, mood disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, epilepsy, and autism.

Dr. Yizhar’s academic and professional awards include the Winokur Scholarship for research in genetics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a Dean’s scholarship for PhD studies at Tel Aviv University, the 2004 Wolff Foundation Prize for Excellent Graduate Students, the 2005 Jorge Deutsch Prize for Research in Bio-Medicine, long-term postdoctoral fellowships from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), the Human Frontiers in Science Program (HFSPO), and the 2011 Sieratzki Prize for Neuroscience Research.