Born in Japan, Dr. Takashi Kawashima completed his MD in 2009 and his PhD in biochemistry in 2013 at the University of Tokyo. During his PhD studies, he also learned visual physiology and in vivo imaging at the Kyushu University. In 2013, Dr. Kawashima joined the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia as a postdoctoral associate. He joined the faculty of the Weizmann Institute of Science in June 2019. He is the incumbent of Birnbach family career Development Chair.
Dr. Kawashima studies an aspect of the learning process regulated by the release of a special class of chemical agents by one neuron, to change the activity of a group of other neurons, a process called neuromodulation. The chemicals involved—such as dopamine and serotonin—act as dimmers or amplifiers in the brain, regulating the activity of a whole host of brain cells at once. Dr. Kawashima uses zebrafish to study the learning process—tiny fish that share many learning-related neural circuits with humans and whose small, transparent brains can be imaged and analyzed whole or at the single-cell level. He is especially interested in how dopamine and serotonin systems affect how we (or fish) learn that a particular stimulus is positive or negative, and worth taking a risk to obtain or avoid. Clarifying how the brain learns to make positive or negative associations with stimuli has major implications for understanding both addiction and anxiety disorders. Dr. Kawashima also anticipates that his research will have implications for understanding the relationship between the primary effects and side effects of neuropsychiatric drugs, which typically target the dopamine and serotonin systems.
Beginning with a gold medal in the Japan High-School Chemistry Grand Prix in 2002, Dr. Kawashima has received a number of honors and recognition, including: The University of Tokyo President’s Award in 2009, a three-year JSPS pre-doctoral fellowship beginning in 2010, the Inoue Research Award for Young Scientists in 2015, and the Japan Neuroscience Society Young Investigator Award in 2017. He has two Japanese and one international patents for inventions in biomedical research.
Dr. Kawashima is married to Dr. Mio Nonaka, a neuroscientist joining the lab of Prof. Orly Reiner at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The couple have two daughters.