To do this, we take a multidisciplinary, multiscale approach. We combine big data analysis and cutting-edge experimental techniques to study memory across the spatial scales of the nervous system: molecules, cells, circuits, and behaviour. With this combination, we aim to generate a comprehensive understanding of the neurobiological rules of memory in both health and disorder.


Goal: identification of cell types and associated key molecules


Molecular techniques used: 

  • Single-cell RNA-seq

  • Big data analysis (transcriptomics)

  • In situ hybridization

  • Immunohistochemistry


Goal: validate and causally interpret cell types and molecules


Cellular techniques used:

  • Patch-clamp electrophysiology

  • Cell-type-specific gene knockouts (CRISPR)


Goal: map molecules and cell types onto circuits and develop circuit-specific access 


Circuit techniques used:

  • Virus-mediated anterograde and retrograde circuit mapping

  • Circuit-specific silencing and activation


Goal: interpret behavior with molecular, cell-type, and circuit specificity


Behavioural techniques used:

  • Combine mouse behaviour with molecular-, cellular-, and/or circuit-specific interventions

  • 1P calcium imaging during behaviour


Sept. 3, 2019: Adrienne Kinman has joined the lab as an MSc student.

July 10, 2019: The lab is awarded a Project Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for “Elucidating and disrupting the neural substrates of fear memory.”

May 17, 2019: The lab has been awarded a New Frontiers in Research Fund grant from SSHRC, CIHR, and NSERC for “Generation and application of novel molecular biosensor in fear memory”, in collaborating with Andre Berndt at the University of Washington.

Apr. 12, 2019: Kaitlin Sullivan has joined the lab as a technician and soon-to-be MSc student.

Mar. 25, 2019: Sarah Erwin has joined the lab as a technician.

Feb. 18, 2019: Our review on heterogeneity within hippocampal cell types has been published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience with a cover illustration.

Jan. 1, 2019: Our laboratory has officially opened at the University of British Columbia, with Tim O’Leary starting as a Research Associate.

Dec. 18, 2018: See a presentation of our research at the Allen Institute Showcase 2018.

Dec. 17, 2018: Our recent eLife paper was highlighted in Nature Reviews Neuroscience.




Principal investigator

Lab members

The Cembrowski Lab is always looking for trainees and scientists. Potential applicants should contact Mark via email at mark.cembrowski [ at ] with a CV and a specific explanation of why they are interested in the lab.


Tim O’Leary, PhD CV | Google Scholar | Pubmed

Research Associate

Tim seeks to understand the molecular and cellular basis of fear memory by combining viral techniques, behaviour, and in vivo pharmacology. Prior to joining the Cembrowski lab, Tim completed a post-doctoral fellowship at UBC (2018) and his PhD at Dalhousie University (2013).


Kaitlin Sullivan CV

MSc Student

Kaitlin's research is focused on identifying neuronal subpopulations that participate in various stages of fear memory. Originally from Vancouver, Kaitlin completed her undergraduate degree in Cognitive Science at McGill University in 2016. During this time, she also completed an honours thesis project in the lab of Dr. Derek Bowie, where she investigated the expression of voltage gated sodium channels in the cerebellum. 


Adrienne Kinman CV

MSc Student (start date September 2019)

Adrienne’s research focuses on the characterization of cell types involved in fear memory during behaviour, and how the activity of these cells can change under pharmacologic interventions. Previously, Adrienne completed a BA in psychology at McGill University, and then worked at the Mouse Imaging Centre at The Hospital for Sick Children where she assessed neuroanatomical and behavioural responses to drug treatments for autism spectrum disorder.


Sarah Erwin CV

Research Assistant/Technician

Sarah is combining molecular, circuit, and behavioural techniques to study the precise cell-type logic of memory and anxiety in the hippocampus. Prior to joining the Cembrowski lab, Sarah worked as a technician at HHMI Janelia Research Campus, as well as a research assistant in a monogastric animal nutrition lab at Michigan State University.


Jasem Estakhr, MSc CV

PhD Student (co-supervised, with Yu Tian Wang)

Jasem’s research aims to have better understanding of how synaptic plasticity relates to memory formation in hippocampus, including using interfering peptides to investigate how Protein Kinase A and Calcineurin contribute to synaptic plasticity. Jasem completed his MSc in Neuroscience in the Nashmi lab at UVic where he studied the roles of cholinergic modulation of neuronal activity using optogenetic techniques.


Hans Bae

Undergraduate student

Hans is an undergraduate volunteer researcher in the lab, applying image analysis techniques to study cell-type organization. He is beginning his first year at the University of British Columbia, interested in majoring in Microbiology and Immunology.


Willis Cao

Undergraduate student

Willis is an undergraduate volunteer researcher in the lab, using cutting-edge viral techniques to understand the cell-type-specific connectivity of the retrosplenial cortex. He is currently completing his second year at the University of British Columbia in the Honours Program in Cellular, Anatomical, and Physiological Sciences.


Stacy Wang

Undergraduate Student

Stacy is an undergraduate volunteer researcher in the lab, focusing on understanding the cell-type organization of brain regions using single-molecule fluorescent in situ hybridization. She is currently completing her second year at the University of British Columbia, majoring in behavioural neuroscience.


Angela Zhang

Undergraduate student

Angela is an undergraduate volunteer researcher in the lab, applying image analysis techniques to study cell-type organization. She is beginning her first year at the University of British Columbia, interested in majoring in Cellular, Anatomical, and Physiological Sciences.



Andre Berndt, Assistant Professor

Bioengineering Department, University of Washington

We collaborate with the Berndt Laboratory to build and test new biosensors for understanding the neuromodulation of memory.


Erik Bloss, Assistant Professor

The Jackson Laboratory

We combine computational modeling with Erik's expertise in array tomography and electron microscopy to understand the structural and functional organization of synaptic connectivity of hippocampal pyramidal neurons


Keith Hengen, Assistant Professor

Department of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis

We collaborate with the Hengen Laboratory to understand the long-term functional properties of precise cell types.


Maria Ioannou, Assistant Professor

Department of Physiology, University of Alberta

We combine our cell-type identification with the Ioannou Laboratory’s expertise in cell biology to identify the functional consequences of astrocytic heterogeneity in the brain.


Jesse Jackson, Assistant Professor

Department of Physiology, University of Alberta

We combine our abilities of cell-type-specific identification and manipulation with the Jackson Laboratory’s expertise in in vivo behavioural experiments to understand the operation of the claustrum.


Nelson Spruston, Senior Director, Scientific Programs and Laboratory Head

Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

We collaborate with the Spruston lab to clarify the cell-type-specific architecture of spatial navigation and memory.


Annie Vogel Ciernia, Assistant Professor

Centre for Brain Health, University of British Columbia

We collaborate with the Vogel Ciernia lab to investigate the transcriptomic and epigenomic rules of neurons.



See also Google Scholar and Pubmed


Cembrowski, M.S. Single-cell transcriptomics as a framework and roadmap for understanding the brain. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. In press.


Cembrowski, M.S., Spruston, N. Heterogeneity within classical cell types is the rule: lessons from hippocampal pyramidal neurons. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 20(4):193-204. 2019.

  • Recommendation on Faculty of 1000.


Cembrowski, M.S., Wang, L., Lemire, A., DiLisio, S.F., Copeland, M., Clements, J., Spruston, N. The subiculum is a patchwork of discrete subregions. eLife 7, doi:10.7554/eLife.37701, 2018.

  • Research Highlight. Lewis, S. Patchwork subiculum. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 20(1):3. 2019.

Cembrowski, M.S., Phillips, M.G., DiLisio, S.F., Shields, B.C., Winnubst, J., Chandrashekar, J., Bas, E., Spruston, N. Dissociable structural and functional hippocampal outputs via distinct subiculum cell classes. Cell 173(5): 1280–1292, 2018.

  • Research Highlight. Whalley, K. A regional divide. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 19(7):390. 2018.

Cembrowski M.S., Menon, V. Continuous variation within cell types of the nervous system. Trends in Neurosciences 41(6): 339-350, 2018.

Bloss, E.B., Cembrowski, M.S., Karsh, B., Colonell, J., Fetter, R.D., Spruston, N. Single excitatory axons form clustered synapses onto CA1 pyramidal cell dendrites. Nature Neuroscience 21(3): 353-363, 2018.

Cembrowski, M.S., Spruston, N. Integrating results across methodologies is essential for producing robust neuronal taxonomies. Neuron 94(1): 747-751, 2017.

Cembrowski, M.S., Wang., L., Sugino, K., Shields, B.C., Spruston, N. Hipposeq: a comprehensive RNA-seq database of gene expression in hippocampal principal neurons. eLife 5, 10.7554/eLife.14997, 2016.


Bloss, E.B., Cembrowski, M.S., Karsh, B., Colonell, J., Fetter, R., Spruston, N. Structured patterns of dendritic inhibition support branch-specific forms of integration in CA1 pyramidal cells. Neuron 89(5): 1016-1030, 2016.

Cembrowski, M.S., Bachman, J.L., Wang, L., Sugino, K., Shields, B.C., Spruston, N. Spatial gene-expression gradients underlie prominent heterogeneity of CA1 pyramidal neurons. Neuron 89(2): 351-368, 2016.

  • ·Featured article of the issue. Previewed by Tushev, G. and Schuman, E.M. Rethinking Functional Segregation: Gradients of Gene Expression in Area CA1. Neuron 89(2):242-243, 2016.

  • ·Of Outstanding Interest. Mallory, C.S. and Giocomo, L.M. Heterogeneity within hippocampal place coding. Review, Current Opinion in Neurobiology 49:158-167, 2018.

  • ·Highlighted reference (1 of 6). Soltesz, I. and Losonczy, A. CA1 pyramidal cell diversity enabling parallel information processing in the hippocampus. Review, Nature Neuroscience 21(18): 484-493, 2018.

  • Of Special Interest. Valero, M. and de la Prida, L,M. The hippocampus in depth: a sublayer-specific perspective of entorhinal–hippocampal function. Review, Current Opinion in Neurobiology 52:107-114, 2018.

  • Of Special Interest. Suvrathan, A. Beyond STDP – Towards Diverse and Functionally Relevant Plasticity Rules. Review, Current Opinion in Neurobiology 54:12-19, 2019.

Kim, Y.*, Hsu, C.-L.*, Cembrowski, M.S., Mensh, B.D., Spruston, N. Dendritic sodium spikes are required for long-term potentiation at distal synapses on hippocampal pyramidal neurons. eLife 4, doi:10.7554/eLife.06414, 2015. *: authors contributed equally

  • ·Recommendation on Faculty of 1000.

Choi, H., Lei, Zhang, L., Cembrowski, M.S., Sabottke, C.F., Markowitz, A.L., Butts, D.A., Kath, W.L., Singer, J.H., Riecke, H. Intrinsic bursting of AII amacrine cells underlies oscillations in the rd1 mouse retina. Journal of Neurophysiology 112(6): 1491-1504, 2014.

Ke, J., Wang, Y., Borghuis, B.G., Cembrowski, M.S., Riecke, H., Kath, W.L., Demb, J.B., Singer, J.H. Adaptation to background light enables contrast coding at rod bipolar cell synapses. Neuron 81(2): 388-401, 2014.

  • ·Recommendation on Faculty of 1000.

Cembrowski, M.S., Logan, S., Tian, M., Jia, L., Li, W., Kath, W.L., Riecke, H., Singer, J.H. The mechanisms of repetitive spike generation in an axonless retinal interneuron. Cell Reports 1(2): 155-166, 2012.

Jarsky, T.*, Cembrowski, M.S.*, Logan, S., Kath, W.L., Riecke, H., Demb, J., Singer, J.H. A synaptic mechanism for retinal adaptation to luminance and contrast. The Journal of Neuroscience 31(30): 11003-110515, 2011. *: authors contributed equally


Interviews and presentations: some highlights of our research

Mark interviewed in Science

Mark interviewed in Nature Methods

Mark presents research at the Allen Institute Showcase Symposium

Gallery: A collection of our striking images from the hippocampus and beyond. Our images have been featured in science + art series like the Cell Picture Show and NeuroArt.


The activated dentate gyrus

Granule cells of the dentate gyrus (red), induced to drive activity (green: activity reporting via cFos immunohistochemistry).


Axonal tapestry

Axons from two different coloured subiculum projections interleave and course towards the thalamus.


Neuronal pointillism

Overview of the hippocampus and entorhinal cortices, with Dkk3, Ly6g6e, and Pcp4 labeled via in situ hybridization 


A forest of mossy cells

Mossy cells of the hilus received their name due to their elaborate moss-like dendritic elaborations. 


Flowering mossy branches

Mossy cell branches are decorated with inputs from large glutamatergic terminals (via Vglut1 immunohistochemistry).


The coloured hippocampus

The major cell types of the hippocampus (blue: granule cells; red/yellow/green: CA3/CA2/CA1 pyramidal cells).

About Mark

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Mark S. Cembrowski received his BSc in Mathematics from the University of British Columbia (2007), where he conducted research examining complex oscillatory behaviour of a sixth-order nonlinear partial differential equation. He later received his MS (2008) and PhD (2011) in Applied Mathematics from Northwestern University, where he combined computational modeling and patch-clamp electrophysiology to study retinal processing as a joint student between William Kath, Hermann Riecke, and Joshua Singer.

As a postdoc, Mark worked in the laboratory of Nelson Spruston at the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His research combined computational modeling, big data analysis, transcriptomics, electrophysiology, viral circuit mapping, and animal behaviour to study the role of cell types in memory.

Currently, Mark is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences at the University of British Columbia, and an Investigator with the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. He is also a Next Generation Leader with the Allen Institute and a Visiting Scientist with the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

In his spare time, Mark practises and teaches yoga, handstands, and calisthenics.

Mark's CV (current as of January 2019) is here.