Carmen Varela

varelaAssistant Professor

Department of Psychology

MC-19, office TBD, Jupiter


Postdoctoral training, Picower Institute for Learning & Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ph.D. Computational Neuroscience, The University of Chicago

Research Interests

Thalamic circuits and their contribution to the mechanisms of learning:

  • Memory formation and processing:  retrieval, consolidation, schemas   
  • Problem solving:  inference, generalization, insight
  • Thalamic neuromodulators and their regulation of learning and memory
  • Abnormal learning/memory conditions

Research Description and Openings

Currently selecting candidates to join the lab from January 2019. Multiple openings (undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral) with flexible start dates from January. Join us now and be part of the founding projects of the lab!

Our goal is to figure out how the interactions between the cellular networks of the limbic thalamus underlie complex processes like the retrieval of memory, its use in learning, or the modulation of learning and memory by internal states (emotion, sleep).

We will rely heavily on state-of-the-art electrophysiology (units, LFPs) in behaving rats, in vivo calcium and voltage imaging, as well as optogenetics and statistical modelling.


Penagos H, Varela C, Wilson MA. Oscillations, neural computations and sleep. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 2017 Jun;44:193-201.doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2017.05.009.

Varela C, Wilson MA. Thalamic Contributions to Neocortico-Hippocampal Interactions during Sleep. COSYNE 2017.

Varela C, Weiss S, Meyer R, Halassa M, Biedenkapp J, Wilson MA, Goosens KA, Bendor D. Tracking the time-dependent role of the hippocampus in memory recall using DREADDs. PLoS One, 2016. May 4;11(5):e0154374. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154374.

Duan AR, Varela C, Zhang Y, Shen Y, Xiong L, Wilson MA, Lisman J. Delta Frequency Optogenetic Stimulation of the Thalamic Nucleus Reuniens Is Sufficient to Produce Working Memory Deficits: Relevance to Schizophrenia. Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Jun 15;77(12):1098-1107. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.01.020. Epub 2015 Feb 28.

Wilson MA, Varela C, Remondes M. Phase organization of network computations. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 2015. Feb10; 31C:250-253. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2014.12.011.

Varela C. (2014) Thalamic neuromodulation and its implications for executive networks. Front. Neural Circuits 8:69. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2014.00069.

Varela C, Kumar S, Yang JY, Wilson MA. Anatomical substrates for direct interactions between hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex and the thalamic nucleus reuniens. Brain Structure & Function 219, no. 3 (May 2014): 911–29. doi:10.1007/s00429-013-0543-5.

Varela C. (2013). The gating of neocortical information by modulators. J Neurophysiol. Mar;109(5):1229-32. doi: 10.1152/jn.00701.2012. Epub 2012 Sep 5. 

Varela C, Llano DA, Theyel BB. An introduction to in vitro slice approaches for the study of neuronal circuitry. Chapter 6, in “Neuronal Network Analysis”, part of “Neuromethods Series”, Springer, 2012.

Varela C, Sherman SM. Differences in response to serotonergic activation between first and higher order thalamic nuclei. Cereb Cortex. 2009 Aug; 19(8):1776-86.

Varela C, Sherman SM. Differences in response to muscarinic activation between first and higher order thalamic relays. J Neurophysiol. 2007 Dec; 98(6):3538-47.

Lam YW, Cox CL, Varela C, Sherman SM. Morphological correlates of triadic circuitry in the lateral geniculate nucleus of cats and rats. J Neurophysiol. 2005 Feb;93(2):748-57.

Rivadulla C, Martínez LM, Varela C, Cudeiro J. Completing the corticofugal loop: a visual role for the corticogeniculate type I metabotropic glutamate receptor. J Neurosci. 2002 Apr 1;22(7):2956-62.