University of Southern California

USC Neuroscience

Li I Zhang

Associate Professor
Dept. of Physiology & Biophysics
Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute
Keck School of Medicine of USC
PIBBS Mentor

Research Topics

  1. Synaptic circuitry mechanisms undelrying sensory information processing in the brain's cortex
  2. Synaptic and cellular basis for development and plasticity of neural circuitry
  3. Neural circuitry basis for developmental or degenerative neurological diseases
  4. Cellular and molecular basis for functional development of mammlian cochlear

Research Overview

Our long-term goal is to understand the neural basis for the powerful computations that the cortex performs: in particular, how perception is generated, how behavior is controlled, how the cortex adapts in response to the environment during development, and how changes in cortical function result in neurological and psychiatric disease. With the belief that knowledge of detailed structure is a key to comprehending cortical functions, we focus on delineating the cortical synaptic circuitry to provide a structural basis for the cortical representation and processing of sensory information. In this project, using in vivo whole-cell recording and imaging techniques, and exploiting mouse molecular genetics, we will first determine how different types of sensory-driven synaptic inputs of individual cortical neurons are structured to achieve their specific laminar processing in the adult auditory cortex. Complimentarily, we will exploit functionally-mapped cortical slices to reveal the nature and pattern of individual neuronal connectivity underlying sensory-driven inputs. In addition, we will characterize the structure of functional synaptic circuits in developing auditory cortex. By correlating the specific developmental changes in cortical synaptic circuitry to those in cortical function, we hope to extract synaptic circuitry mechanisms for the maturation of cortical function, and elucidate the determinant structural factors for specific cortical functions. We think that these studies will shed light on synaptic basis of cortical computations, as well as cortical pathologies.

Contact Information

Web Site:
Mailing Address:
1501 San Pablo Street
ZNI 431
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Office Location:
ZNI 431
Office Phone:
(323) 442-4347
Lab Location:
ZNI406 & ZNI419
Lab Phone:
(323) 442-2145


  • Postdoc, University of California, San Francisco 2004
  • PhD, University of California, San Diego, 2000
  • MA, Columbia University, 1996
  • BS, Peking (Beijing) University, China, 1994

Research Images

Selected Publications

View a complete PubMed search

View a complete Google Scholar search

Wu GK,Tao HW,Zhang LI - From elementary synaptic circuits to information processing in primary auditory cortex. - Neurosci Biobehav Rev [2011] May 14; -Link

Liu BH,Li YT,Ma WP,Pan CJ,Zhang LI,Tao HW - Broad inhibition sharpens orientation selectivity by expanding input dynamic range in mouse simple cells. - Neuron [2011] Aug 11;71(3):542-54  -Link

Wang SZ, Liu BH, Tao HW, Xia K, Zhang LI.  A genetic strategy for stochastic gene activation with regulated sparseness (STARS).  PLoS One. 2009;4(1):e4200. Epub 2009 Jan 15.

Ma WP,Liu BH,Li YT,Huang ZJ,Zhang LI,Tao HW - Visual representations by cortical somatostatin inhibitory neurons--selective but with weak and delayed responses. - J Neurosci [2010] Oct 27;30(43):14371-9  -Link

Zhou Y, Liu BH, Wu GK, Kim YJ, Xiao Z, Tao HW, Zhang LI.  Preceding inhibition silences layer 6 neurons in auditory cortex.  Neuron. 2010 Mar 11;65(5):706-17.


Sun YJ, Wu GK, Liu BH, Li P, Zhou M, Xiao Z, Tao HW, Zhang LI.  Fine-tuning of pre-balanced excitation and inhibition during auditory cortical development.  Nature. 2010 Jun 17;465(7300):927-31.


Liu BH,Li P,Sun YJ,Li YT,Zhang LI,Tao HW - Intervening inhibition underlies simple-cell receptive field structure in visual cortex. - Nat Neurosci [2010] Jan;13(1):89-96  -Link

Liu BH,Li P,Li YT,Sun YJ,Yanagawa Y,Obata K,Zhang LI,Tao HW - Visual receptive field structure of cortical inhibitory neurons revealed by two-photon imaging guided recording. - J Neurosci [2009] Aug 26;29(34):10520-32  -Link

Wang SZ,Liu BH,Tao HW,Xia K,Zhang LI - A genetic strategy for stochastic gene activation with regulated sparseness (STARS). - PLoS One [2009] ;4(1):e4200  -Link

Wu GK,Arbuckle R,Liu BH,Tao HW,Zhang LI - Lateral sharpening of cortical frequency tuning by approximately balanced inhibition. - Neuron [2008] Apr 10;58(1):132-43  -Link

Liu BH,Wu GK,Arbuckle R,Tao HW,Zhang LI - Defining cortical frequency tuning with recurrent excitatory circuitry. - Nat Neurosci [2007] Dec;10(12):1594-600 -PubMed