Robert Thomas Knight
132 Barker Hall
M.D., Northwestern University
Research Area: 
Secondary Research Area: 
Research Interests: 
Attention and memory; neuropsychology and physiology; cognitive neuroscience
  • whatshotResearch Description

    Robert T. Knight, M.D., is a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience 

    Research Areas:

    The laboratory studies the contribution of prefrontal cortex to human behavior. We use electrophysiological, fMRI and behavioral techniques to study controls and neurological patients with frontal lobe damage in an effort to understand the neural mechanisms subserving cognitive processing in humans. The laboratory also records the electrocorticogram directly from the cortical surface in neurosurgical patients with implanted electrodes to study the electrophysiology of network activity supporting goal-directed behavior in humans. The laboratory uses this information to develop brain machine interfaces for motor and language prosthetic devices.

    Current Projects

    Human evolution is paralleled by a massive increase in the connectivity of the frontal cortex to other brain regions. The evolution of the prefrontal cortex is crucial for the development of human cognitive and social behavior. Damage to prefrontal cortex in humans from neurological or developmental disorders results in profound alterations in the ability to think, plan and interact in a socially appropriate manner. The laboratory is interested in the neural mechanisms by which frontal cortex controls distributed neuronal ensembles in other brain regions critical for both cognitive and social behavior. To achieve these aims the laboratory employs neuropsychological, neuroanatomical, electrophysiological and fMRI techniques to study the physiology of prefrontal function in normal subjects and in neurological patients.

    The laboratory also records the electrocorticogram (ECoG) from neurosurgical patients during both acute intra-operative surgical procedures and in epileptic patients with subdural electrodes implanted for an extended period. This line of research aims to understand the network properties and neural coding supporting behavior in the human neocortex. The laboratory is actively developing the use of these ECoG signals for the development of brain-machine interfaces for motor and language prosthesis in neurological patients with disabling motor or language disorders.

    Some broad areas under current investigation include: What is the timing and neural coding of interactions between prefrontal cortex and other brain regions engaged during attention and memory performance? What is the role of ultra-high cortical gamma oscillations and distributed network coherence in human behavior? Can ultra high gamma oscillations recorded from the human cortex be used to control robotic devices for paralyzed patients?

  • placeSelected Publications

    (Full list and pdf files:

    Knight, R.T. Contribution of human hippocampal region to novelty detection. Nature, 383:256-259, 1996.

    Barcelo, F., Suwazono, S. and Knight, R.T. Prefrontal modulation of visual processing in humans. Nature Neuroscience, 3(4): 399-403, 2000.

    Canolty, R., Edwards, E., Soltani, M., Dalal, S.S., Kirsch, H.E., Barbaro, N.M., Berger, M.S. and Knight, R.T. High gamma power is phase-locked to theta oscillations in human neocortex. Science, 313: 1626-1628, 2006.

    Chang, E.F., Rieger, J.W., Johnson, K., Berger, M.S., Barbaro, N.M. and Knight, R.T. Categorical speech representation in the human superior temporal gyrus. Nature Neuroscience, 13(11):1428-1432, 2010.

    Durschmid, S., Reichert, C, Dewar, C., Hinrichs, H., Heinze, H.J., Chang, E.C., Edwards, E., Dalal, S., Deouell, L. and Knight, R.T. Hierarchy of prediction errors for auditory events in human temporal and frontal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(24):6755-60, 2016.

    Piai, V., Anderson, K.L., Lin, J.J., Parvizi, J., Dronkers, N.F. and Knight, R.T. Direct brain recordings reveal hippocampal rhythm underpinnings of language processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(40):11366-11371, 2016.

    Johnson, E.L., Adams, J.N., Solbakk, A., Endestad, T, Larsson, P.G, Meling, T.R., Lin, J.J. and Knight, R.T.  Dynamic frontotemporal systems process space and time in working memory. PLOS Biology, 16(3): 1-22, e2004275, 2018. PMID: 29601574

    Helfrich, R.F., Lendner, J.D., Mander, B.A., Guillen, H., Paff, M., Mnatsakanyan, L. Vadeera, S., Walker, M.P., Lin, J.J. and Knight, R.T. Bidirectional Prefrontal-Hippocampal Dynamics Organize Information Transfer during Sleep in Humans. Nature Communications,10:3572, 1-16, 2019.

    Lendner, J.D., Helfrich, R.F., Mander, M.A., Romunstad, L., Lin, J.J., Walker, M.P., Larsson, P.G. and Knight, R.T. An electrophysiological marker of arousal level in humans. eLife, doi: 10.7544/eLife.55092, 9:e55092, 2020. PMID: 32720644

    Kam, J.W.K., Irving, Z.C., Mills, C., Gopnik, A. and Knight, R.T. Distinct electrophysiological signatures of task-unrelated and dynamic thoughts. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(4) e2011796118, 2021

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