Alex Kwan

Associate Professor
Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering


Alex Kwan is a visiting associate professor in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, and will join the faculty at Cornell University in July 2022. He received a Ph.D. in applied physics from Cornell University, where he worked on nonlinear optical microscopy in the laboratory of Watt Webb. For postdoctoral studies, he was a Croucher Fellow studying cortical microcircuits with Yang Dan at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 2013, he has been a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University.

The Kwan lab applies systems neuroscience and neuroengineering approaches to the study of mental health. We develop optical imaging techniques to visualize neural dynamics in awake mice. We design quantitative decision-making paradigms to characterize behavior. We often complement the imaging and behavioral experiments with other molecular, electrophysiological, optogenetic, and computational methods.

Current effort in the lab is directed towards two topics: (1) Drug action in the brain: Psychiatric drugs exert powerful effects in humans characterized by altered perception, cognition, and mood. The lab studies the action of psychoactive drugs, including ketamine and serotonergic psychedelics such as psilocybin, on the function and connectivity of neurons in the frontal cortex. (2) Decision-making: Animals use past choice and reward history to guide their current decisions. We are interested in how neural circuits may implement reinforcement learning, and whether reward learning dysfunctions may be a useful metric to quantify neuropsychiatric conditions.

Research Interests

Selected Publications

Shao LX, Liao C, Gregg I, Davoudian PA, Savalia NK, Delagarza K, and Kwan AC. Psilocybin induces rapid and persistent growth of dendritic spines in frontal cortex in vivo. Neuron (2021).

Savalia NK, Shao LX, and Kwan AC. A dendrite-focused framework for understanding the actions of ketamine and psychedelics. Trends in Neurosciences (2021).

Ali F, Gerhard DM, Sweasy K, Pothula S, Pittenger C, Duman RS, and Kwan AC. Ketamine disinhibits dendrites and enhances calcium signals in prefrontal dendritic spines. Nature Communications (2020).

Ali F, and Kwan AC. Interpreting in vivo calcium signals from neuronal cell bodies, axons, and dendrites: a review. Neurophotonics (2020).

Barthas F, and Kwan AC. Secondary motor cortex: where ‘sensory’ meets ‘motor’ in the rodent frontal cortex. Trends in Neurosciences (2017).

Siniscalchi MJ, Phoumthipphavong V, Ali F, Lozano M, and Kwan AC. Fast and slow transitions in frontal ensemble activity during flexible sensorimotor behavior. Nature Neuroscience (2016).


B.A.Sc. (Engineering Physics), Simon Fraser University, 2003

Ph.D. (Applied Physics), Cornell University, 2009