Karel Svoboda – May 26 Plenary Lecturer

Karel Svoboda

Group Leader, Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Research overview

Over the last ten years the Svoboda lab has investigated the structure, function and plasticity of cortical circuits in behaving mice, mainly in the context of active tactile sensation. Current areas of investigation include:

i) the neural code underlying active tactile sensation at the level of defined cell types and individual spikes;

ii) the cortical mechanisms of motor planning and movement execution based on tactile evidence;

iii) development of new optical, molecular, and behavioral methods for circuit neuroscience.

Brief Biography

Dr. Karel Svoboda received a PhD in Biophysics from Harvard University (1994), where he measured the molecular scale movements and forces of individual kinesin molecules. He performed his postdoctoral work at Bell Laboratories, where he focused on synaptic and dendritic function in the cortex probed with new optical methods (1994-1997). From 1997 until 2006 he was a Professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and, since 2000, an HHMI Investigator. At CSHL the Svoboda lab developed and exploited methods to track synaptic transmission and plasticity of individual connections in the intact brain. In 2006 the Svoboda lab moved to the newly established HHMI Janelia Research Campus, where Svoboda is a Group Leader.

Distinctions and Awards

1998-2002 Pew Scholars Award

1998-2001 Whitaker Foundation Award

1998-2001 Klingenstein Award

1999 Science Magazine, Runner-up, Breakthrough of the Year

1999-2002  Mathers Foundation Award

2000-     Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Investigator

2002-2003  McKnight Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Award

2003       Eppendorf Science Prize for Neurobiology, Runner-Up

2004       Popular Science Brilliant 10

2004       Society for Neuroscience, AstraZeneca Young Investigator Award

2007       Docteur Honoris Causa, Universite de Lausanne

2008       Gill Junior Investigator Award (Indiana University)

2013       Foreign Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

2014       Larry Katz Prize, Duke University

Selected peer-reviewed research publications and reviews (from > 100)

  • Guo, Z.V., Li, N., Huber, D., Ophir, E., Gutnisky , D.A., Ting, J.T., Feng, G., and Svoboda, K. (2013). Flow of cortical activity underlying a tactile decision in mice. Neuron 81, 179-194.
  • Hires, S.A., Pammer, L., Svoboda, K., and Golomb, D. (2013). Tapered whiskers are required for active tactile sensation. eLife 2, e01350.
  • Chen, T.W., Wardill, T.J., Sun, Y., Pulver, S.R., Renninger, S.L., Baohan, A., Schreiter, E.R., Kerr, R.A., Orger, M.B., Jayaraman, V., Looger, L., Svoboda, K., Kim, D.S. (2013). Ultrasensitive fluorescent proteins for imaging neuronal activity. Nature 499, 295-300.
  • O’Connor, D.H., Hires, S.A., Guo, Z.V., Li, N., Yu, J., Sun, Q.Q., Huber, D., and Svoboda, K. (2013). Neural coding during active somatosensation revealed using illusory touch. Nature Neuroscience 16, 958-965.
  • Hooks, B.M., Mao, T., Gutnisky, D.A., Yamawaki, N., Svoboda, K., and Shepherd, G.M. (2013). Organization of cortical and thalamic input to pyramidal neurons in mouse motor cortex. J Neurosci 33, 748-760.
  • Xu, N.L., Harnett, M.T., Williams, S.R., Huber, D., O’Connor, D.H., Svoboda, K., and Magee, J.C. (2012). Nonlinear dendritic integration of sensory and motor input during an active sensing task. Nature 492, 247-251.
  • Petreanu, L., Gutnisky, D.A., Huber, D., Xu, N.L., O’Connor, D.H., Tian, L., Looger, L., and Svoboda, K. (2012). Activity in motor-sensory projections reveals distributed coding in somatosensation. Nature 489, 299-303.
  • Huber, D., Gutnisky, D.A., Peron, S., O’Connor, D.H., Wiegert, J.S., Tian, L., Oertner, T.G., Looger, L.L., and Svoboda, K. (2012). Multiple dynamic representations in the motor cortex during sensorimotor learning. Nature 484, 473-478.


  • Mao, T., D. Kusefoglu, et al. (2011). Long-Range Neuronal Circuits Underlying the Interaction between Sensory and Motor Cortex. Neuron 72(1): 111-123.
  • O’Connor, D.H., Peron, S.P., Huber, D., and Svoboda, K. (2010). Neural activity in barrel cortex underlying vibrissa-based object localization in mice. Neuron 67, 1048-1061.
  • O’Connor, D.H., Clack, N.G., Huber, D., Komiyama, T., Myers, E.W., and Svoboda, K. (2010). Vibrissa-based object localization in head-fixed mice. J Neurosci 30, 1947-1967.
  • Komiyama, T., Sato, T.R., O’Connor, D.H., Zhang, Y.X., Huber, D., Hooks, B.M., Gabitto, M., and Svoboda, K. (2010). Learning-related fine-scale specificity imaged in motor cortex circuits of behaving mice. Nature 464, 1182-1186.


  • Zhong, H., Sia, G.M., Sato, T.R., Gray, N.W., Mao, T., Khuchua, Z., Huganir, R.L., and Svoboda, K. (2009). Subcellular dynamics of type II PKA in neurons. Neuron 62, 363-374.
  • Zito, K., Scheuss, V., Knott, G., Hill, T., and Svoboda, K. (2009). Rapid functional maturation of nascent dendritic spines. Neuron 61, 247-258.
  • Petreanu, L., Mao, T., Sternson, S. M., and Svoboda, K. (2009). The subcellular organization of neocortical excitatory connections. Nature 457, 1142-1145.
  • O’Connor, D.H., Huber, D., and Svoboda, K. (2009). Reverse engineering the mouse brain. Nature 461, 923-929.


  • Harvey, C. D., Yasuda, R., Zhong, H. & Svoboda, K. The spread of Ras activity triggered by activation of a single dendritic spine. Science 321, 136-40 (2008).
  • Luo, L., Callaway, E. M. & Svoboda, K. Genetic dissection of neural circuits. Neuron 57, 634-60 (2008).
  • Huber D, Petreanu L, Ghitani N, Ranade S, Hromádka T, Mainen Z, Svoboda K (2008). Optical microstimulation of a sparse subset of layer 2/3 barrel cortex neurons drives learning and behavior in freely moving mice. Nature 451:61-4.
  • Harvey C, Svoboda K (2007). Spatially clustered and dynamic synaptic learning rules in pyramidal neuron dendrites. Nature 495, 1195-200.
  • Petreanu L, Huber D, Sobczyk A, Svoboda K (2007) Channelrhodopsin-2-assisted circuit mapping of long-range callosal projections. Nat Neurosci 10:663-668.


  • Knott GW, Holtmaat A, Wilbrecht L, Welker E, Svoboda K (2006) Spine growth precedes synapse formation in the adult neocortex in vivo. Nat Neurosci 9:1117-1124.
  • Holtmaat, A., Wilbrecht, L., Knott, G. W., Welker, E. & Svoboda, K. Experience-dependent and cell-type-specific spine growth in the neocortex. Nature 441, 979-83 (2006).
  • Yasuda, R., Harvey, C. D., Zhong, H., Sobczyk, A., van Aelst, L., and Svoboda, K. (2006). Supersensitive Ras activation in dendrites and spines revealed by two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging. Nat Neurosci 9, 283-291.
  • De Paola, V., Holtmaat, A., Knott, G., Song, S., Wilbrecht, L., Caroni, P., and Svoboda, K. (2006). Cell type-specific structural plasticity of axonal branches and boutons in the adult neocortex. Neuron 49, 861-875.


  • Shepherd GMG, Stepanyants A, Bureau I, Chklovskii DB, Svoboda K. 2005. Geometric and functional organization of cortical circuits. Nature Neurosci., 8:782-790.
  • Chklovskii DB, Mel BW and Svoboda K. 2004. Cortical rewiring and information storage. Nature 431, 782-788.
  • Shepherd GM, Pologruto TA and Svoboda K. 2003. Circuit analysis of experience-dependent plasticity in the developing rat barrel cortex. Neuron 38, 277-89.


  • Trachtenberg JT, Chen BE, Knott GW, Feng G, Sanes JR, Welker E and Svoboda K. 2002. Long-term in vivo imaging of experience-dependent synaptic plasticity in adult cortex. Nature 420, 788-94.
  • Oertner TG, Sabatini BS, Nimchinsky EA and Svoboda K. 2002. Facilitation at single synapses probed with optical quantal analysis. Nat Neurosci 5, 657-664.
  • Sabatini BS, Oertner TG and Svoboda K. 2002. The life-cycle of Ca2+ ions in spines. Neuron 33, 439-452.
  • Sabatini BL and Svoboda K. The number and properties of calcium channels in single dendritic spines determined by optical fluctuation analysis. Nature 408:589-593 (2000).
  • Cox CL, Denk W, Tank DW and Svoboda K. 2000. Action potentials reliably invade axonal arbors of rat neocortical neurons. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 97:9724-8.
  • Lendvai B, Stern E, Chen B and Svoboda K. 2000. Experience-dependent plasticity of dendritic spines in the developing rat barrel cortex in vivo. Nature 404:876-881.
  • Svoboda K, Denk WD, Kleinfeld and Tank DW. 1997. In vivo dendritic calcium dynamics in neocortical pyramidal neurons. Nature 385:161-165.
  • Svoboda K, Tank DW, Denk W. 1996. Direct measurement of coupling between dendritic spines and shafts. Science 272:716-719.
  • Svoboda K and Block SM. 1994. Force and velocity measured for single kinesin molecules. Cell 77:773-784.
  • Svoboda K, Schmidt CF, Schnapp BJ and Block SM. 1993. Direct observation of kinesin stepping by optical trapping interferometry. Nature 365:721-727.