Xinyu Zhao Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

2003-2007, Tsinghua University, Bachelor of Science

2007-2009, Tsinghua University, Master of Science

2009-2014, Northwestern University, U.S.A., Ph.D.

2014-2021, Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, U.S.A., Postdoctoral Associate/Research Scientist

2022-present, School of Life Sciences, Tsinghua University, Assistant Professor

2022-present, Tsinghua-Peking Center for Life Sciences, IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Tsinghua University, Principal Investigator

Research interest

How does the brain learn? With a combination of experimental and computational approaches, we primarily focus on two questions: 1. What is the algorithm that updates connection weights between neurons during learning? 2. How does a neural network transfer its previously learned knowledge to new tasks? We will investigate these questions in mice with multi-disciplinary technologies, including electrophysiology, imaging, optogenetics, computational neuroscience, and machine learning. We believe in a positive feedback loop between experimental and computational studies, which will eventually facilitate both the understanding of the brain and the development of novel artificial intelligent systems.

Selected publications

1. Zhao X*, Hsu CL* and Spruston N. Rapid synaptic plasticity contributes to a learned conjunctive code of position and choice-related information in the hippocampus. Neuron. 2021 (in press)

2. Sun W*, Zhao X* and Spruston N. Bursting potentiates the neuro–AI connection. Nature Neuroscience. 2021 DOI:

3. Zhao X, Wang Y, Spruston N & Magee J. Membrane potential dynamics underlying context-dependent sensory responses in the hippocampus. Nature Neuroscience. 2020. 23(5):881-891

4. Zhao X*, Liu M* and Cang J. Visual Cortex Modulates the Magnitude but Not the Selectivity of Looming-Evoked Responses in the Superior Colliculus of Awake Mice. Neuron. 2014. 84(1):202-213

5. Zhao X, Chen H, Liu X and Cang J. Orientation-selective Responses in the Mouse Lateral Geniculate Nucleus. Journal of Neuroscience. 2013. 33(31):12751-63

6. Zhao X, Liu M and Cang J. Sublinear binocular integration preserves orientation selectivity in mouse visual cortex. Nature Communication. 2013. 4:2088.


Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Student Research Fellowship (2012-2014)

Northwestern-Funded T32 Training Grant (2010-2011)



Address: Biomedical Building Room B404, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, 100084