Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal
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Sylvain Williams, PhD

Researcher, Douglas Institute
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University

Areas of expertise
Electrophysiology, theta and gamma rhythms, hippocampus, optogenetics.

Understanding the neural circuits underlying learning and memory is the major research focus of Sylvain Williams, PhD, a member of the Douglas Institute Research Centre since 1999.

Memories are central to our personal identity and essential to our everyday life. However, how memories are created or recalled remains incompletely understood. What we know though is that the hippocampus, the learning and memory center of the brain, contains millions of neurons that have to work together seemlessly to encode and recall information.

Sylvain William is interested in how large population of neurons interact synaptically to produce brain rhythmic activities that are critical for learning and memory. In addition, understanding the mechanisms of how neurons of the hippocampus behave as a population will give powerful insights into what’s wrong with the neural circuitry in Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Sylvain Williams and his team are pursuing several complementary lines of study aimed towards discovering the neural circuits underlying learning and memory. For example, they have developed a unique approach using a complete hippocampus formation preparation in vitro in combination with electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry and molecular biology, to reveal which neurons can generate brain oscillations.

Moreover, they have also developed optogenetics, which offers the unique capability to manipulate specific groups of neurons with light to better understand their role in neural circuits and brain rhythms. They also developed a special interest in determining the role of identified neurons in freely behaving animal during learning and memory.

Together, these research approaches promise to shed light on how memory processes can become disrupted ultimately giving rise to the development of Alzheimer Disease.


Contact information
Douglas Institute
Perry Pavilion
Room E-2106
6875, boulevard LaSalle
Montreal (Quebec)
H4H 1R3
Phone :
514 761-6131
ext.: 5937

Fax :
514 762-3034
Research division :
  • - Neurosciences
Research groups :
Alzheimer's disease: a 2007 lecture by Judes Poirier (in French)