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.



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

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.


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




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

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).



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.


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.


Erik Bloss, Research Scientist

Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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


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.


Maria Ioannou, Assistant Professor (start date May 2019)

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.



See also Google Scholar and Pubmed




Cembrowski, M.S., Spruston, N. Heterogeneity within classical cell types is the rule: lessons from hippocampal pyramidal neurons. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, in press.


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

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.