Zhifeng Liang, PhD

Investigator and Group Leader, Institute of Neuroscience


Lab Website:

Research Areas

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a set of powerful, versatile and non-invasive imaging methods. Since its invention in 1970s, it has found numerous applications in basic research and clinical practice. In particular, in the past two decades, functional MRI (fMRI) has emerged as a prominent functional brain mapping technique. It has been extensively utilized to map large-scale brain activities in response to sensory stimuli, in performing tasks, or in the resting state.

With fMRI’s capability of whole-brain coverage, we are uniquely positioned to study the brain functions and organizations at the “brain connectome” level. Therefore, our research focuses on the large-scale functional networks, their underlying neural mechanisms and behavioral relevance in normal and pathological conditions, mostly insmall animals (rodents and small non-human primates). To study those issues, weutilize an interdisciplinary approach with state-of-art neuroscience and engineering techniques, such as fMRI, optogenetics, optical imaging, electrophysiology and behavioral testing. Specifically, we are interested in the following topics:

1. Development of methodologies in small animal fMRI, with goals to develop and optimize novel data acquisition and analysis methods.

2. Examination of neural mechanisms of fMRI (BOLD) signals and resulting functional connectivity using novel simultaneous optical modulation/recording and fMRI.

3. Discovery of neural imaging based biomarkers and diagnostic methods in animal models of psychiatric and neurological disorders, with applications in clinical populations.

Ultimately, our long-term goal is to use functional neural imaging methods to develop a framework of multi-level integration of neural activities at different spatial and temporal scales. And with deeper understanding of brain’s functional organization, we hope to further advance the diagnosis, treatment and mechanistic insight of brain disorders.


Dr. Zhifeng Liang received his B.S. degree in Life Science from Fudan University (2008) and his Ph.D. degree in Neuroscience from University of Massachusetts Medical School (2013). He conducted his postdoctoral research in Department of Biomedical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University from 2013 to 2016. Dr. Liang joined Institute of Neuroscience in August. 2016, as an Investigator and Head of Laboratory of Comparative Neuroimaging.


1.Liang Z, Ma Y, Watson GDR, Zhang N (2017) Simultaneous GCaMP6-based Fiber Photometry and fMRI in Rats.J Neurosci Methods. 2017 Jul 4. pii: S0165-0270(17)30239-X. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2017.07.002. [Epub ahead of print]
2.Gao YR, Ma Y, Zhang Q, Winder AT, Liang Z, Antinori L, Drew PJ, Zhang N (2016) Time to wake up: Studying neurovascular coupling and brain-wide circuit function in the un-anesthetized animal.Neuroimage. 2017 Jun;153:382-398. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.11.069. Epub 2016 Nov 28. Review.
3.Smith JB, Liang Z, Watson GD, Alloway KD, Zhang N (2016) Interhemispheric resting-state functional connectivity of the claustrum in the awake and anesthetized states. Brain Struct Funct. 2016 Oct 6. [Epub ahead of print]
4.Crenshaw DG, Asin K, Gottschalk WK, Liang Z, Zhang N, Roses AD (2015) Effects of low doses of pioglitazone on resting-state functional connectivity in conscious rat brain. PloS one 10:e0117973.
5.Liang Z*, Watson GD*, Alloway KD, Lee G, Neuberger T, Zhang N (2015) Mapping the functional network of medial prefrontal cortex by combining optogenetics and fMRI in awake rats. NeuroImage 117:114-123. (*contribute equally)
6.Liang Z, Liu X, Zhang N (2015) Dynamic resting state functional connectivity in awake and anesthetized rodents. NeuroImage 104:89-99.
7.Fu Y, Ma Z, Hamilton C, Liang Z, Hou X, Ma X, Hu X, He Q, Deng W, Wang Y, Zhao L, Meng H, Li T, Zhang N (2015) Genetic influences on resting-state functional networks: A twin study. Human brain mapping 36:3959-3972.
8.Liang Z, King J, Zhang N (2014) Neuroplasticity to a single-episode traumatic stress revealed by resting-state fMRI in awake rats. NeuroImage 103:485-491.
9.Liang Z, Li T, King J, Zhang N (2013) Mapping thalamocortical networks in rat brain using resting-state functional connectivity. Neuro Image 83:237-244.
10.Liang Z, King J, Zhang N (2012) Intrinsic organization of the anesthetized brain. The Journal of neuroscience32:10183-10191.
11.Liang Z, King J, Zhang N (2012) Anticorrelated resting-state functional connectivity in awake rat brain. Neuro Image 59:1190-1199.
12.Liang Z, King J, Zhang N (2011) Uncovering intrinsic connectional architecture of functional networks in awake rat brain. The Journal of neuroscience 31:3776-3783.
13.Zhang N, Rane P, Huang W, Liang Z, Kennedy D, Frazier JA, King J (2010) Mapping resting-state brain networks in conscious animals. Journal of neuroscience methods 189:186-196.