Faculty Profile: Barry Connors, Ph.D., Duke University

Barry Connors
Barry Connors, Ph.D., Duke University
Professor and Chair
Dept of Neuroscience
Work: +1 401-863-2982
I study the cellular physiology of the mammalian brain. Most of my work centers on the neocortex, which is responsible for thinking, remembering, processing sensory information, and controlling movement. The neocortex is a vast network of interconnected neurons. My research group studies the properties of these neurons, their synaptic connections, and the characteristics of cortical networks. We are also interested in the mechanisms of epileptic seizures.


Barry Connors received his PhD in physiology and pharmacology from Duke in 1979, then did postdoctoral work at Stanford and later joined the faculty there. He moved to Brown in 1987, and is currently Professor and Chairman of the Dept. of Neuroscience, and L. Herbert Ballou University Professor of Neuroscience. Dr. Connors' research focuses on the neurons of the cerebral cortex and thalamus, the physiological properties of their electrical and chemical synapses, the normal and abnormal behavior of small neural networks, and the mechanisms of epilepsy and neurodevelopmental disorders.



Research Description

The neocortex is the largest and most unique part of the mammalian brain. It generates neural events that are essential for normal perception, motor control, memory, and cognition. To help understand the mechanisms of the neocortex, my students and I study the basic physiology of its neurons, synapses and neurotransmitters, and the patterns of its connections. We discovered that inhibitory neurons in the cortex communicate via electrical synapses, and that electrically coupled networks of neurons can serve as pacemakers for cortical rhythms in the brain. We are also studying how neural activity leads to plasticity of cortical circuits, and how the seizure discharges of epilepsy begin and propagate through the cortex. Our methods include intracellular and extracellular recording and patch clamping, neuroanatomical techniques, isolated slice preparations, and computer modeling.

Grants and Awards

1975-79 National Institutes of Health (NIH) predoctoral fellowship
1979-81 NIH postdoctoral fellowship
1981-82 Lennox Postdoctoral Fellowship, American Epilepsy Society
1985-88 Klingenstein Fellowship in the Neurosciences
1985-91 Research Career Development Award, NIH
1992 Grass Foundation Traveling Scientist
1997 Dozor Visiting Professor, Ben-Gurion University, Israel
1997-04 Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, NIH/NINDS
1996-06 J Neuroscience, Assoc to Senior Editor
2000-07 Associate, Neurosciences Research Program (NRP)
2000-present L. Herbert Ballou University Professor
2004-08 Dean's Teaching Excellence Award, Brown Medical School
2008- NIH study section member,NST-2, K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Awards
2012 Elected Fellow of AAAS
Editorial boards: J Neurophysiology, Cerebral Cortex, Brain Structure & Function


Society for Neuroscience
American Epilepsy Society
American Physiological Society

Funded Research

National Institutes of Health (NIH), RO1 NS050434, Cellular physiology of neural circuits in neocortex, 2006-2011
NIH, RO1 NS-25983, Electrical synapses in the mammalian brain, 2005-2010
NIMH, T32 MH019118-19, 7/09-6/14, Postdoctoral Training Program in Systems and Behavioral Neuroscience

Selected Publications

  • Zhang J, Laiwalla F, Kim JA, Urabe H, Wagenen Van R, Song Y-K, Connors BW, Zhang F, Deisseroth K, Nurmikko AV. Integrated device for optical stimulation and spatiotemporal electrical recording of neural activity in light sensitized brain tissue. J Neural Engin, in press. (IN PRESS)
  • Connors BW. Electrical signaling with neuronal gap junctions. In: Connexins: A Guide, Harris A, Locke D (eds), Humana Press, pp. 143-164, 2009. (2009)
  • Parker PRL, Cruikshank SJ, and Connors BW. Stability of electrical coupling despite massive developmental changes of intrinsic neuronal physiology. J Neurosci, 29: 9761–9770, 2009. (2009)
  • Fanselow EE, Richardson KA, Connors BW. Selective, state-dependent activation of somatostatin-expressing inhibitory interneurons in mouse neocortex. J Neurophysiol, 100: 2640-2652, 2008. (2008)
  • Cruikshank SJ, Connors BW. Neuroscience: State-sanctioned synchrony. Nature. 454:839-840, 2008. (2008)
  • Richardson KA, Fanselow EE, Connors BW. Neocortical anatomy and physiology. In: Epilepsy: A Comprehensive Textbook, 2nd Ed., Engel J, Pedley TA (eds), Lippincott-Williams & Wilkins, pp. 323-336, 2008. (2008)
  • Cruikshank SJ, Lewis TJ, Connors BW. Synaptic basis for intense thalamocortical activation of feedforward inhibitory cells in neocortex. Nature Neurosci, 10: 462-468, 2007. (2007)
  • Mancilla JG, Lewis TJ, Pinto DJ, Rinzel J, Connors BW. Synchronization of electrically coupled pairs of inhibitory interneurons in neocortex. J Neurosci, 27:2058-2073, 2007. (2007)
  • Venkataramani S, Davitt KM, Zhang J, Xu H, Song YK, Connors BW, Nurmikko AV. Semiconductor ultra-violet light emitting diodes for flash photolysis. J Neurosci Meth, 160:5-9, 2007. (2007)
  • Bear MF, Connors BW, Paradiso MA. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain, 3rd Ed., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, 2007. (2007)
  • Landisman CE, Connors BW. VPM and PoM nuclei of the rat somatosensory thalamus: intrinsic neuronal properties and corticothalamic feedback. Cerebral Cortex, 17:2853-2865, 2007. (2007)
  • Patrick SL, Connors BW, Landisman CE. Developmental changes in somatostatin-positive interneurons in a freeze-lesion model of epilepsy. Epilepsy Res, 70: 161-171, 2006. (2006)
  • Venkataramani S, Davitt KM, Zhang J, Xu H, Song YK, Connors BW, Nurmikko AV. Compact semiconductor light-emitting diodes for dynamical imaging of neuronal circuitry. IEEE J Select Topics Quantum Electron, 11: 785-790, 2005. (2005)
  • Song YK, Patterson WR, Bull CW, Beals J, Hwang NJ, Deangelis AP, Lay C, McKay JL, Nurmikko AV, Fellows MR, Simeral J, Donoghue JP, Connors BW. Development of a chipscale integrated microelectrode / microelectronic device for brain implantable neuroengineering applications. IEEE Trans Neural Systems Rehab Engin, 13: 220-226, 2005. (2005)
  • Cruikshank SJ, Landisman CE, Mancilla JG, Connors BW. Connexon connexions in the thalamocortical system. Progress Brain Research, 149: 41-57, 2005. (2005)
  • Fanselow EE, Connors BW. Navigating a sensorimotor loop. Neuron, 45:329-330, 2005. (2005)
  • Long MA, Jutras MJ, Connors BW, Burwell RD. Electrical synapses coordinate activity in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Nature Neurosci, 8: 61-66, 2005. (2005)
  • Gibson JR, Beierlein M, Connors BW. Functional properties of electrical synapses between inhibitory interneurons of neocortical layer 4. J Neurophysiol, 93: 467-480, 2005. (2005)
  • Pinto DJ, Patrick SL, Huang WC, Connors BW. Initiation, propagation, and termination of epileptiform activity in neocortex in vitro involve distinct mechanisms. J Neuroscience, 25: 8131-8140, 2005. (2005)
  • Long MA, Cruikshank SJ, Jutras MJ, Connors BW. Abrupt maturation of a spike-synchronizing mechanism in neocortex. J Neurosci, 25: 7309-7316, 2005. (2005)
  • Landisman CE, Connors BW. Modulation of electrical synapses in the mammalian thalamus. Science, 310:1809-1813, 2005. (2005)
  • Ozden I, Venkataramani S, Long MA, Connors BW, Nurmikko AV. Strong coupling of nonlinear electronic and biological oscillators: Reaching the "amplitude death" regime. Physical Rev Lett, 93: 158102-1-4, 2004. (2004)
  • Cruikshank SJ, Hopperstad M, Younger M, Connors BW, Spray DC, Srinivas M. Potent block of Cx36 and Cx50 gap junction channels by mefloquine. Proc Natl Acad Sci, USA, 101: 12364-12369, 2004. (2004)
  • Long MA, Landisman CE, Connors BW. Small clusters of electrically coupled neurons generate synchronous rhythms in the thalamic reticular nucleus. J Neurosci, 24: 341-349, 2004. (2004)
  • Patterson WR, Song Y-K, Bull CW, Ozden I, Deangellis A, McKay JL, Nurmikko AV, Donoghue JD, Connors BW. A microelectrode/microelectronic hybrid device for brain implantable neuroprosthesis applications. IEEE Trans Biomed Engin, 10: 1845-1853, 2004. (2004)
  • Connors BW, Long MA. Electrical synapses in the mammalian brain. Ann Rev Neurosci, 27: 393–418, 2004. (2004)
  • Beierlein M, Gibson JR, Connors BW. Two dynamically distinct inhibitory networks in layer 4 of the neocortex. J Neurophysiol, 90: 2987-3000, 2003. (2003)
  • Telfeian AE, Connors BW. Widely integrative properties of layer 5 pyramidal cells support a role for processing of extralaminar synaptic inputs in rat neocortex. Neurosci Lett, 343: 121-124, 2003. (2003)
  • Long MA, Deans MR, Paul DL, Connors BW. Rhythmicity without synchrony in the electrically uncoupled inferior olive. J Neurosci, 22: 10898-10905, 2002. (2002)
  • Landisman CE, Long MA, Beierlein M, Deans MR, Paul DL, Connors BW. Electrical synapses in the thalamic reticular nucleus. J Neurosci, 22: 1002-1009, 2002. (2002)
  • Amitai Y, Gibson JR, Beierlein M, Patrick SL, Ho AM, Connors BW, Golomb D. The spatial dimensions of electrically coupled networks of interneurons in neocortex. J Neurosci, 22: 4142-4152, 2002. (2002)
  • Deans MR, Gibson JR, Sellitto C, Connors BW, Paul DL. Synchronous activity of inhibitory networks in neocortex requires electrical synapses containing connexin36. Neuron, 31: 477-485, 2001. (2001)
  • Finnerty GT, Connors BW. Modest alterations of short-term synaptic dynamics follow sensory deprivation without competition. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 97: 12864 12868, 2000. (2000)
  • Beierlein M, Gibson JR, Connors BW. An electrically coupled network of interneurons drives synchronized inhibition in neocortex. Nature Neurosci, 3: 904-910, 2000. (2000)
  • Gibson JR, Beierlein M, Connors BW. Two networks of electrically coupled inhibitory neurons in neocortex. Nature, 402: 75-79, 1999. (1999)
  • Finnerty GT, Roberts LS, Connors BW. Sensory experience modifies short-term dynamics of neocortical synapses. Nature, 400: 367-371, 1999. (1999)
  • Zhu JJ, Connors BW. Intrinsic firing patterns and whisker-evoked synaptic responses of neurons in the rat barrel cortex. J Neurophysiol, 81: 1171-1183, 1999. (1999)
  • Gil Z, Connors BW, Amitai Y. Efficacy of thalamocortical and intracortical synaptic connections: quanta, innervation, and reliability. Neuron, 23: 385-397, 1999. (1999)
  • Telfeian AE, Connors BW. Epileptiform propagation patterns mediated by NMDA and nonNMDA receptors in neocortex. Epilepsia, 40: 1580-1586, 1999. (1999)
  • Cauller LJ, Clancy B, Connors BW. Backward cortical projections to primary somatosensory cortex in rats extend long horizontal axons in layer I. J Comp Neurol, 390: 297 310, 1998. (1998)
  • Telfeian AE, Connors BW. Layer-specific pathways for the horizontal propagation of epileptiform discharges in neocortex. Epilepsia, 39: 700-708, 1998. (1998)
  • Castro-Alamancos MA, Connors BW. Distinct forms of synaptic plasticity in pathways of hippocampus and neocortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 94: 4161-4166, 1997. (1997)
  • Connors BW. Anatomy and physiology of neocortex. In: Epilepsy: A Comprehensive Textbook, J Engel, TA Pedley (eds.), Lippincott-Raven Press, pp. 307-322, 1997. (1997)
  • Connors BW, Amitai Y. Making waves in the neocortex. Neuron, 18: 347-349, 1997. (1997)
  • Castro-Alamancos MA, Connors BW. Thalamocortical synapses. Prog Neurobiol. 51: 581-606, 1997. (1997)
  • Gil Z, Connors BW, Amitai Y. Differential regulation of neocortical synapses by activity and neuromodulators. Neuron, 19: 679-686, 1997. (1997)
  • Castro-Alamancos MA, Connors BW. Cellular mechanisms of the augmenting response: short-term plasticity in a thalamocortical pathway. J Neurosci, 16: 7742-7756, 1996. (1996)
  • Castro-Alamancos MA, Connors BW. Spatiotemporal properties of short-term plasticity in sensorimotor thalamocortical pathways of the rat. J Neurosci, 16: 2767-2779, 1996. (1996)
  • Castro-Alamancos MA, Connors BW. Short-term synaptic enhancement and long-term potentiation in neocortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 93: 1335-1339, 1996. (1996)
  • Flint AC, Connors BW. Two types of network oscillations in neocortex mediated by distinct glutamate receptor subtypes and neuronal populations. J Neurophysiol, 75: 951-956, 1996. (1996)
  • Castro-Alamancos MA, Connors BW. Short-term plasticity of a thalamocortical pathway dynamically modulated by behavioral state. Science, 272: 274-277, 1996. (1996)
  • Nicoll A, Kim HG, Connors BW. Laminar origins of inhibitory synaptic inputs of pyramidal neurons in rat neocortex. J Physiol (Lond), 497: 109-117, 1996. (1996)
  • Connors BW, Regehr WG. Neuronal firing: Does function follow form? Current Biology, 6: 1560-1562, 1996. (1996)
  • Kim HG, Beierlein M, Connors BW. Inhibitory control of excitable dendrites in neocortex, J Neurophysiol, 74: 1810-1814, 1995. (1995)
  • Kim HG, Fox K, Connors BW. Properties of excitatory synaptic events in neurons of the primary somatosensory cortex of neonatal rats. Cerebral Cortex, 2:148-157, 1995. (1995)
  • Castro-Alamancos MA, Donoghue JP, Connors BW. Different forms of synaptic plasticity in somatosensory and motor areas of the neocortex. J Neurosci, 15: 5324-5333, 1995. (1995)
  • Cauller LJ, Connors BW. Synaptic physiology of horizontal afferents to layer I of primary somatosensory cortex in rats. J Neurosci, 14: 751-762, 1994. (1994)
  • Kim HG, Connors BW. Apical dendrites of the neocortex: correlation between sodium- and calcium-dependent spiking and pyramidal cell morphology. J Neurosci, 13: 5301-5311, 1993. (1993)
  • Amitai Y, Friedman, A., Connors BW, Gutnick MJ. Regenerative activity in the apical dendrites of pyramidal cells in neocortex. Cerebral Cortex, 3: 26-38, 1993. (1993)
  • Bear MF, Press WA, Connors BW. Long-term potentiation in slices of kitten visual cortex and the effects of NMDA receptor blockade. J Neurophysiol, 67: 841-851, 1992. (1992)
  • Agmon A, Connors BW. Correlation between intrinsic firing patterns and thalamocortical responses of mouse barrel cortex neurons. J Neurosci, 12: 319-330, 1992. (1992)
  • Cauller LJ, Connors BW. Functions of very distal dendrites: Experimental and Computational studies of layer I inputs to layer V pyramidal neurons in neocortex. In: Single Neuron Computation, T McKenna, J Davis, SF Zornetzer (eds.), Academic Press, pp. 199-230, 1992. (1992)
  • Silva LR, Gutnick MJ, Connors BW. Laminar distribution of neuronal membrane properties in neocortex of normal and reeler mouse. J Neurophysiol, 66: 2034-2040, 1991. (1991)
  • Silva LR, Amitai Y, Connors BW. Intrinsic oscillations of neocortex generated by layer 5 pyramidal neurons. Science, 251: 432-435, 1991. (1991)
  • Agmon A, Connors BW. Thalamocortical responses of mouse somatosensory (barrel) cortex in vitro. Neuroscience, 41: 365-380, 1991. (1991)
  • Connors BW, Gutnick MJ. Intrinsic firing patterns of diverse neocortical neurons. Trends in Neurosciences, 13: 99-104, 1990. (1990)
  • Agmon, A., Connors BW. Repetitive burst-firing neurons in the deep layers of mouse somatosensory cortex. Neurosci Lett, 99: 137-141, 1989. (1989)
  • Chagnac-Amitai Y, Connors BW. Horizontal spread of synchronized activity in neocortex, and its control by GABA-mediated inhibition. J Neurophysiol, 61: 747-757, 1989. (1989)
  • Chagnac-Amitai Y, Connors BW. Synchronized excitation and inhibition driven by intrinsically bursting neurons in neocortex. J Neurophysiol, 62: 1149-1162, 1989. (1989)
  • Chervin RD, Pierce PA, Connors BW. Periodicity and directionality in the propagation of epileptiform discharges across neocortex. J Neurophysiol, 60: 1695-1713, 1988. (1988)
  • Connors BW, Malenka RC, Silva LR. Two inhibitory postsynaptic potentials, and GABAA and GABAB receptor-mediated responses in neocortex of rat and cat. J Physiol (Lond), 406: 443-468, 1988. (1988)
  • Connors BW, Ransom BR. Electrophysiological properties of ependymal cells (radial glia) in dorsal cortex of the turtle, Pseudmys scripta. J Physiol (Lond) 385:287-306, 1987. (1987)
  • Kriegstein AR, Connors BW. Cellular physiology of the turtle visual cortex: Synaptic properties and intrinsic circuitry. J Neurosci, 6:178-191, 1986. (1986)
  • Connors BW, Kriegstein AR. Cellular physiology of the turtle visual cortex: Distinctive properties of pyramidal and stellate neurons. J Neurosci, 6:164-177, 1986. (1986)
  • McCormick DA, Connors BW, Lighthall JW, Prince DA. Comparative electrophysiology of pyramidal and sparsely spiny neurons of the neocortex. J Neurophysiol, 54:782-806, 1985. (1985)
  • Ransom BR, Yamate CL, Connors BW. Activity-dependent shrinkage of extracellular space: A developmental study. J Neurosci, 5:532-535, 1985. (1985)
  • Connors BW, Ransom BR. Chloride conductance and extracellular potassium concentration interact to modify the excitability of rat optic nerve fibres. J Physiol (Lond), 355:619-633, 1984. (1984)
  • Connors BW. Initiation of synchronized neuronal bursting in neocortex. Nature, 310:685-687, 1984. (1984)
  • Connors BW, Benardo LS, Prince DA. Carbon dioxide sensitivity of dye-coupling among glia and neurons of the neocortex. J Neurosci, 4:1324-1330, 1984. (1984)
  • Connors BW, Benardo LS, Prince DA. Coupling between neurons of the developing rat neocortex. J Neurosci, 3:773-782, 1983. (1983)
  • Connors BW, Gutnick MJ, Prince DA. Electrophysiological properties of neocortical neurons in vitro. J Neurophysiol, 48:1302-1320, 1982. (1982)
  • Connors BW, Ransom BR, Kunis D, Gutnick MJ. Activity-dependent K+ accumulation in the developing rat optic nerve. Science, 216:1341-1343, 1982. (1982)
  • Connors BW, Prince DA. Effects of the local anesthetic QX-314 on the membrane properties of hippocampal pyramidal neurons. J Pharmacol Exp Therap, 220:476-481, 1982. (1982)
  • Gutnick MJ, Connors BW, Prince DA. Mechanisms of neocortical epileptogenesis in vitro. J Neurophysiol, 48:1321-1335, 1982. (1982)
  • Beierlein M, Connors BW. Efficacy and dynamics of excitatory synapses to layer 6 neurons in neocortex depend on input source. J Neurophysiol, 88: 1924-1932, 2002. (1924)