Alex Kwan

Alex Kwan

Associate Professor
Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering
Weill Hall, Room 111


Alex Kwan received a Ph.D. in applied physics from Cornell University, where he worked on optical microscopy in the laboratory of Watt Webb. For postdoctoral studies, he was a Croucher Fellow studying neuroscience with Yang Dan at the University of California, Berkeley. He was an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, before joining the Cornell faculty in 2022.

The Kwan lab applies systems neuroscience and neuroengineering approaches to the study of mental health. We develop optical imaging techniques to visualize neural structure and activity dynamics in awake mice. We design quantitative paradigms to characterize behavior. We often complement the imaging and behavioral experiments with other molecular, electrophysiological, optical, and computational methods.

Current effort in the lab is directed towards understanding drug action in the brain. Psychiatric drugs exert powerful effects in humans characterized by altered perception, cognition, and mood. Our recent studies focus on compounds such as ketamine and serotonergic psychedelics that may be promising for treating depression. We want to know how these drugs produce therapeutic behavioral effects through modifying the connectivity and functions of neural circuits. We leverage the neurobiological insights to develop novel screening methods for preclinical drug development. Our long-term goal is to discover effective and safe strategies for treating depression.

To learn more about the lab, please visit the Kwan Lab website.

Research Interests

Selected Publications

Shao LX, Liao C, Gregg I, Davoudian PA, Savalia NK, Delagarza K, and Kwan AC. Psilocybin induces rapid and persistent growth of dendritic spines in frontal cortex in vivo. Neuron (2021).

Davoudian PA, Shao LX, and Kwan AC. Shared and distinct brain regions targeted for immediate early gene expression by ketamine and psilocybin. ACS Chemical Neuroscience (2023).

Kwan AC, Olson DE, Preller KH, and Roth BL. The neural basis of psychedelic action. Nature Neuroscience (2022).

Savalia NK, Shao LX, and Kwan AC. A dendrite-focused framework for understanding the actions of ketamine and psychedelics. Trends in Neurosciences (2021).

Ali F, Gerhard DM, Sweasy K, Pothula S, Pittenger C, Duman RS, and Kwan AC. Ketamine disinhibits dendrites and enhances calcium signals in prefrontal dendritic spines. Nature Communications (2020).


B.A.Sc. (Engineering Physics), Simon Fraser University, 2003

Ph.D. (Applied Physics), Cornell University, 2009


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