Keith Hengen

Keith Hengen

Assistant Professor of Biology
PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison

contact info:

mailing address:

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

Keith Hengen’s neuroscience laboratory at Washington University investigates the role of sleep and wake in chaperoning the interactions between distinct plasticity mechanisms.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the brain is its capacity to self-organize and maintain stable function across dynamically variable environments. These self-correcting adaptations can often be considered “homeostatic”; a homeostatic mechanism functions to stabilize a key parameter of a biological system, much like a thermostat serves to stabilize the temperature in a building.

This self-organization is an active process, and it should come as no surprise that impaired homeostatic mechanisms are increasingly implicated in severe human pathologies such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Rett Syndrome, autism, and schizophrenia. Despite the immediate relevance of understanding how neurons and networks are stabilized and shaped by behavior, learning, and development (and disrupted by disease), homeostasis in intact neuronal networks in vivo is almost completely unaddressed.

The Hengen Lab’s research interests are rooted in the self-organization of intact neural networks that support sensation, perception, and cognition, and how appropriate information transmission in these systems is established during development and disrupted in disease. Our work involves on sleep, plasticity, emergence, and disease. 

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.