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Richard D. Fields, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Section on Nervous System Development and Plasticity


35A BD620


Research Topics

Nervous System Development and Plasticity

Our research is concerned with understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which activity in the brain regulates development of the nervous system during late stages of fetal development and early postnatal life. This work has three main areas of emphasis. 1) We strive to determine how different patterns of neural impulses regulate specific genes controlling development and plasticity of the nervous system. This includes effects of impulse activity on neurons and glia and the molecular signaling pathways regulating gene expression in these cells in response to neural impulses. 2) We investigate how neurons and non-neuronal cells (glia) interact, communicate, and cooperate functionally. A major emphasis of this research is to understand how myelin (white matter in the brain) may be regulated by functional activity, which could implicate myelin in learning, cognition, child development, and psychiatric disorders. The research is exploring how glia sense neural impulse activity at synapses and non-synaptic regions and the functional and developmental consequences of activity-dependent regulation of neurons and glia. 3) We aim to determine the molecular mechanisms converting short-term memory into long-term memory, and in particular, how gene expression necessary for long-term memory is controlled. We use cellular, molecular, and electrophysiological studies in hippocampal brain slices.


Dr. R. Douglas Fields is Chief of the Section on Nervous System Development and Plasticity in the NICHD. His long-standing interest is in nervous system plasticity and in particular the cellular mechanisms by which functional activity in the nervous system affects development and learning. This includes not only synaptic development and function, but also interactions between neurons and glia (non-neuronal brain cells), and regulation of myelin by impulse activity in axons. Before joining the NIH in 1987, Dr. Fields was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University and Stanford University. He received his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975, an M.A. degree from San Jose State University in 1979, and a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, San Diego in 1985 for research performed jointly in the medical school and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Outside the lab Dr. Fields enjoys communicating science to a general audience.  He serves as scientific advisor to Scientific American Mind, and he writes about science in several publications and for the Society for Neuroscience,  He is the author of a book about glia, The Other Brain (Simon and Schuster), and a book on the neuroscience of sudden aggression, Why We Snap (Penguin/Dutton).

Selected Publications

  1. Wake H, Lee PR, Fields RD. Control of local protein synthesis and initial events in myelination by action potentials. Science. 2011;333(6049):1647-51.
  2. Lee PR, Cohen JE, Iacobas DA, Iacobas S, Fields RD. Gene networks activated by specific patterns of action potentials in dorsal root ganglia neurons. Sci Rep. 2017;7:43765.
  3. Wake H, Ortiz FC, Woo DH, Lee PR, Angulo MC, Fields RD. Nonsynaptic junctions on myelinating glia promote preferential myelination of electrically active axons. Nat Commun. 2015;6:7844.
This page was last updated on July 12th, 2017