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Shih-Chieh Lin, M.D., Ph.D., Investigator

Dr. Lin received his M.D. from National Taiwan University in 2000, and his Ph.D. in neurobiology from Duke University in 2006. His graduate studies in the laboratory of Dr. Miguel Nicolelis utilized multi-electrode chronic recording in behaving rodents to understand how neuromodulatory systems dynamically shape the activity of forebrain networks. He continued his postdoctoral research in the Nicolelis lab to further elucidate the novel roles of non-cholinergic basal forebrain neurons in encoding motivational salience and attention. Dr. Lin received the 2008 Young Investigator Award from NARSAD, and the Pathway to Independence (K99) Award from the National Institute of Mental Health in 2009. Dr. Lin joined NIH in September 2009. His lab studies how cognitive functions are mediated by interactions of cortical and subcortical circuits.
Photo of Shih-Chieh Lin, M.D., Ph.D., Investigator


Research Interests:
Top-down attention is an essential cognitive function, which allows for selective processing of sensory stimuli based on their behavioral relevance and motivational salience. The impairment of top-down attention is an integral component of age-related cognitive decline, and a central feature of many neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder and Alzheimer's disease. These findings underscore the importance of identifying the underlying neural mechanisms of top-down attention.

Studies from my group in recent years have identified a key neural mechanism in the basal forebrain (BF) whose function is to amplify the processing of incoming sensory information based on the motivational, but not perceptual, salience of the stimulus. We discovered that the motivational salience of the attended stimulus is encoded by a homogeneous group of non-cholinergic BF neurons (Lin et al, J Neurophysiol, 2006, Lin & Nicolelis, Neuron, 2008). The BF activity encoding motivational salience leads to a prominent event-related potential (ERP) response in the frontal cortex (Nguyen & Lin, eLife, 2014), which likely provides powerful amplification on early stages of information processing. Furthermore, amplification of this BF motivational salience signal is quantitatively coupled with faster and more precise decision speed (Avila & Lin, PLoS Biology, 2014). These results support our hypothesis that non-cholinergic BF neurons encode the motivational salience of attended stimuli, which powerfully amplifies cortical processing with minimum delay, ultimately leading to faster and better decision making.

Current Research Directions: To build upon our previous discoveries and to further substantiate our hypothesis, our lab investigates (1) the neurochemical identity of salience-encoding BF neurons; (2) how attention-related cortical activity is dynamically shaped by BF inputs; (3) how BF neuronal activity may be controlled by cortical and other inputs; (4) whether the decline of attention in the aging process is mediated by a corresponding impairment in cortical-basal forebrain interaction.

Selected Recent Publications:
  • Nguyen DP, Lin S-C (InPress) A frontal cortex event-related potential driven by the basal forebrain, eLife.

  • Avila I, Lin S-C (InPress) Motivational salience signal in the basal forebrain is coupled with faster and more precise decision speed, PLoS Biol. Full Text/Abstract

  • Zhang H, Lin S-C, Nicolelis MAL (2011) A distinctive subpopulation of medial septal slow-firing neurons promote hippocampal activation and theta oscillations, Journal of Neurophysiology 106(5), 2749-63. Full Text/Abstract

  • Zhang H, Lin S-C, Nicolelis MAL (2010) Spatiotemporal Coupling between Hippocampal Acetylcholine Release and Theta Oscillations In Vivo, Journal of Neuroscience 30(40), 13431-13440 . Full Text/Abstract

  • Zhang H, Lin S-C, Nicolelis MAL (2009) Acquiring local field potential information from ameperometric neurochemical recordings, J Neurosci Methods 179(2):191-200 179(2), 191-200.

  • Lin S-C and Nicolelis MAL (2008) Neuronal ensemble bursting in the basal forebrain encodes salience irrespective of valence, Neuron 59(1), 138-149. Full Text/Abstract

All Selected Publications

Contact Information:

Dr. Shih-Chieh Lin
Neural Circuits and Cognition Unit
Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience
National Institute on Aging, NIH
251 Bayview Blvd, Suite 100/9C220
Baltimore, MD 21224-

Telephone: (410) 558-8509 (office),


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