Keith Hengen

Keith Hengen

Assistant Professor of Biology
PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison

contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1137
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130

Keith Hengen is interested in understanding how computation emerges from biological systems. His laboratory uses a combination of cutting-edge systems neuroscience tools, theory, and molecular manipulations to shed light on why we sleep, how our brains support rich and diverse functions, and how disease impacts information moving through networks of neurons.

If the brain is a biological computer, our goal is to understand the OS. How do millions and billions of neurons generate robust cognition and behavior? Why do our brains need sleep to achieve robust computation? And can we use disease to shine a light on what's necessary for biological computation?

To address these questions, we record from thousands of neurons spread across the brains of freely behaving animals. We use theory and modeling to approach our data, and develop machine learning tools to find meaningful structure in complexity. 

recent courses

Principles of the Nervous System

This course will provide a broad introduction to neuroscience, starting at the level of cellular and molecular neuroscience, and ultimately ending at systems and theoretical neuroscience, with emphasis on the organization of the mammalian central nervous system. Topics will include neuronal structure, the action potential, information transmission between neurons, sensory/motor systems, emotion, memory, disease, drugs, behavior, and network dynamics. A fundamental goal of this course is to provide students with the ability to approach complex problems using the scientific method and to understand the limits of knowledge. This course will also expose students to some of the neuroscience community at WashU. Bio 2960, Bio 2970 recommended, Bio 3058 recommended or Psych 3401 and permission of instructor.

    Selected Publications

    Hengen KB, Torrado Pacheco A, McGregor JN, Van Hooser SD, Turrigiano GG (2016). Neuronal firing rate homeostasis is inhibited by sleep and promoted by wake. Cell, 2016 Mar 24;165(1):180-91.

    Hengen KB, Nelson NR, Stang KM, Johnson SM, Smith SM, Watters JJ, Mitchell GS, Behan M (2015). Daily isoflurane exposure increases barbiturate insensitivity in medullary respiratory and cortical neurons via expression of ε-subunit containing GABAARs. PLoS ONE, 10(3):e0119351. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119351.

    Hengen KB, Lambo ME, Van Hooser SD, Katz DB, Turrigiano GG (2013). Firing rate homeostasis in visual cortex of freely behaving rodents. Neuron 80(2):335-42.

    Hengen KB, Nelson NR, Stang KM, Johnson SM, Crader SM, Watters JJ, Behan M (2012). Increased GABAA­­­ Receptor ε-Subunit Expression on Ventral Respiratory Column Neurons Protects Breathing during Pregnancy. PLoS ONE 7(1): e30608. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030608

    Hengen KB, Gomez TM, Stang KM, Johnson SM, Behan M (2011). Changes in ventral respiratory column GABAA e and d subunits during hibernation mediate resistance to depression by ETOH and pentobarbital. Am J Physiol Regul Integ Comp Physiol. 300:R272-R283.

    Hengen KB, Behan M, Carey HV, Jones MV, Johnson SM (2009). Hibernation induces pentobarbital insensitivity in medulla but not cortex. Am J Physiol Regul Integ Comp Physiol. 297: R1028–R1036.