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Joseph Watson, Ph.D.

Email Address:

Work Address:
760 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095

760 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095

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Department / Division Affiliations
Professor, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences
Associate Director for Outreach, Brain Research Institute
Professor in Residence, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

Research Interest:

Synaptic Targets of Oxidative Stress in Neurodegenerative Disorders

The overall focus of the Watson lab is to understand how synaptic function is altered in the age-related disorders Parkinson's Disease (PD) and Huntington's Disease. Experimental paradigms consist of molecular/biochemical and electrophysiological studies of synaptic function in vitro in mouse brain slices. Synaptic plasticity approaches include high frequency-induced long-term depression (LTD) and long-term potentiation (LTP) as well chemically induced LTP (chemLTP). A major goal of the lab is to determine the role of human alpha-synuclein in presynaptic plasticity and related cell signaling pathways in the corticostriatal circuit in a variety of transgenic mouse models for PD. A second goal is to identify the relevant mitochondrial targets of oxidative stress induced by pesticides and herbicides as well as alpha-synuclein. A third goal is to apply new proteomic approaches to full-length amino acid sequencing of neurological disease-related proteins such as alpha-synuclein in micro-amounts of brain tissue.


Dr. Watson received his Ph.D from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA in 1985 in Jay Gralla's Laboratory in which he combined virology and protein biochemistry to identify early SV40 virus replication and transcription complexes associated with the nuclear matrix of eukaryotic cells. He then went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology of the nervous system in Dr. J. Gregor Sutcliffe's lab at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, where he began his initial studies of neurodegenerative diseases focusing on identifying novel genes relevant to Huntington's Disease (HD). He returned to UCLA in 1989 as a member of the Mental Retardation Research Center and the Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, studying synaptic targets of neurodegenerative diseases that include Parkinson's Disease (PD), HD, and Alzheimer's Disease. He has also served as the Vice Chair of the Neuroscience Undergraduate Interdepartmental Program for the UCLA campus and Outreach Program Director for the Brain Research Institute (BRI). He is also currently an Associate Dean in the Graduate Division.


Watson J B, Hatami A, David H, Masliah E, Roberts K, Evans C E, Levine M S Alterations in corticostriatal synaptic plasticity in mice overexpressing human alpha-synuclein. Neuroscience. 2009; 159(2): 501-13.
Watson J B, Arnold M M, Ho Y-S, O'Dell T J Age-dependent modulation of hippocampal long-term potentiation by antioxidant enzymes. Journal of neuroscience research. 2006; 84(7): 1564-74.
Zhao Danyun, Watson Joseph B, Xie Cui-Wei Amyloid beta prevents activation of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II and AMPA receptor phosphorylation during hippocampal long-term potentiation. Journal of neurophysiology. 2004; 92(5): 2853-8.
Chotiner J K, Khorasani H, Nairn A C, O'Dell T J, Watson J B Adenylyl cyclase-dependent form of chemical long-term potentiation triggers translational regulation at the elongation step. Neuroscience. 2003; 116(3): 743-52.
Watson J B, Khorasani H, Persson A, Huang K-P, Huang F L, O'Dell T J Age-related deficits in long-term potentiation are insensitive to hydrogen peroxide: coincidence with enhanced autophosphorylation of Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II. Journal of neuroscience research. 2002; 70(3): 298-308.
Makhinson M, Chotiner J K, Watson J B, O'Dell T J Adenylyl cyclase activation modulates activity-dependent changes in synaptic strength and Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase II autophosphorylation. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 1999; 19(7): 2500-10.
Johnson M W, Chotiner J K, Watson J B Isolation and characterization of synaptoneurosomes from single rat hippocampal slices. Journal of neuroscience methods. 1997; 77(2): 151-6.
Watson, J.B. Subtractive cDNA Hybridization and Brain: Then, Now, and Tomorrow. Handbook of Molecular-Genetic Techniques for Brain and Behavior Research (Techniques in the Behavior 1999; Vol. 13: 189-199.
Chang, JW Schumacher, E Coulter, PM Vinters, HV Watson, JB Dendritic translocation of RC3/neurogranin mRNA in normal aging, Alzheimer disease and fronto-temporal dementia. Journal of neuropathology and experimental neurology. . 1997; 56(10): 1105-18.
Cummings Damian M, Alaghband Yasaman, Hickey Miriam A, Joshi Prasad R, Hong S Candice, Zhu Chunni, Ando Timothy K, André Véronique M, Cepeda Carlos, Watson Joseph B, Levine Michael S A critical window of CAG repeat-length correlates with phenotype severity in the R6/2 mouse model of Huntington's disease. Journal of neurophysiology. 2012; 107(2): 677-91.
Cepeda Carlos, Crawford Cynthia A, Margulies Jody E, Watson Joseph B, Levine Michael S, Cohen Randy W Enhanced epileptogenic susceptibility in a genetic model of reactive synaptogenesis: the spastic Han-Wistar rat. Developmental neuroscience. 2002; 24(4): 262-71.
Cepeda Carlos, Cummings Damian M, Hickey Miriam A, Kleiman-Weiner Max, Chen Jane Y, Watson Joseph B, Levine Michael S Rescuing the Corticostriatal Synaptic Disconnection in the R6/2 Mouse Model of Huntington's Disease: Exercise, Adenosine Receptors and Ampakines. PLoS currents. 2010; 2(2): .
Romero-Calderón Rafael, O'Hare Elizabeth D, Suthana Nanthia A, Scott-Van Zeeland Ashley A, Rizk-Jackson Angela, Attar Aida, Madsen Sarah K, Ghiani Cristina A, Evans Christopher J, Watson Joseph B Project brainstorm: using neuroscience to connect college students with local schools. PLoS biology. 2012; 10(4): e1001310.
Chang Julia W, Arnold Monica M, Rozenbaum Anna, Caputo Anna, Schweizer Felix E, Huynh My, Mathern Gary W, Sarafian Theodore A, Watson Joseph B Synaptoneurosome micromethod for fractionation of mouse and human brain, and primary neuronal cultures. Journal of neuroscience methods. 2012; 211(2): 289-95.