Nicola Allen, PhD

Associate Professor

Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Videos


Can you hear me now? Ensuring good cellular connections in the brain

To have a good phone conversation, you need a good cellular connection. What’s true for mobile phones also turns out to be true for neurons.

Salk Institute scientists have discovered that brain cells called astrocytes initiate communication between pairs of neurons early in development by inducing specific changes in both members of the pair. The work, published in Neuron on October 11, 2017, has important implications for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, ADHD and schizophrenia that are thought to result at least partly from faulty communication between neurons. Read more »

Nicola Allen

Nicola Allen gives a quick overview on the research in her lab at the Salk Institute. Allen’s lab investigates the molecular pathways that lead to connections between neurons, known as synapses, in the developing brain. Her group focuses on signaling interactions between neurons and astrocytes, a class of star-shaped glial cell. Astrocytes constitute half of the cells in the brain, and astrocyte processes, the “arms” that project outward from the cells, surround the majority of neuronal synapses in the brain. This places them in an ideal location to be actively involved in synapse formation and maintenance and in the modulation of communication between neurons. In fact, in the absence of astrocytes, few functional connections form between developing neurons, while their presence profoundly increases the number of functional synapses.


BSc, Anatomical Sciences, University of Manchester, England
PhD, Neuroscience, University College London
Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University


Awards & Honors

  • Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Career Accelerator Award, 2018
  • Coins For Alzheimer’s Research Trust (CART) Award, 2018
  • World Economic Forum Young Scientist, 2017
  • Dana Foundation Neuroimaging Award, 2016
  • Pew Biomedical Scholar Award, 2015
  • Whitehall Foundation Award, 2014
  • Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar in Aging Award, 2013
  • Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) Fellowship
  • European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Fellowship