Department of Otorhinolaryngology

faculty photo

Maria Neimark Geffen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Otorhinolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery
Department: Otorhinolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery

Contact information
Department of Otorhinolaryngology
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
5 Ravdin
3400 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: 215.898.0782
Fax: 215.898.9994
Lab: 215.573.7691
Graduate Group Affiliations
A.B. (Molecular Biology)
Princeton University, 2001.
Ph.D. (Biophysics)
Harvard University, 2006.
Post-Graduate Training
Fellow, Physics and Biology, Center for Studies in Physics and Biology Rockefeller University, 2006-2009.
Raymond and Beverly Sackler Fellow in Physics and Biology, Center for Studies in Physics and Biology Rockefeller University, 2009-2010.
Permanent link
> Perelman School of Medicine   > Faculty   > Details

Description of Research Expertise

Neuronal circuits for auditory perception and learning.
The long-term goal of our research is to identify the neuronal circuits and neuronal codes that support hearing and auditory memory and learning in complex acoustic environments. Auditory perception is shaped by the interaction of sensory inputs with our experiences, emotions, and cognitive states. Decades of research have characterized how neuronal response properties to basic sounds, such as tones or whistles, are transformed in the auditory pathway of passively listening subjects. Much less well-understood is how the brain creates a perceptual representation of a complex auditory scene, i.e., one that is composed of a myriad of sounds, and how this representation is shaped by learning and experience. Over the last six years, our laboratory has made transformative progress in the quantitative understanding of neuronal circuits supporting dynamic auditory perception, through a combination of behavioral, electrophysiological, optogenetic and computational approaches.

Specifically, we have:
(1) Discovered a novel role for the auditory cortex in learning-driven changes in auditory acuity;
(2) Discovered a novel intra-cortical circuit supporting adaptation to temporal regularities in sounds;
(3) Identified computational mechanisms for encoding of complex sounds in the auditory cortex;
(4) Identified neural mechanisms underlying development of perception of environmental sounds and speech perception.

​With these findings, our laboratory is positioned to make a breakthrough in the computational and theoretical understanding of audition over the next few years. Whereas the specific research projects in the laboratory focus on investigating distinct circuits involved in specific auditory functions, our aspiration is to develop a comprehensive computational framework for understanding neuronal dynamics in perception and memory. Our focus on the function these circuits in audition will pave the way for understanding processing across sensory modalities and brain regions.

For more information, please visit

Selected Publications

Natan RG, Carruthers IM, Mwilambwe-Tshilobo L, Geffen, MN: Gain Control in the Auditory Cortex Evoked by Changing Temporal Correlation of Sounds. Cerebral Cortex 27(3): 2385-2402, Mar 2017.

Blackwell, J.M., Geffen, M.N. : Progress and challenges for understanding the function of cortical microcircuits in auditory processing. Nature Communications in press, 2017.

Natan, R.G., Rao, W., Geffen, M.N. : Cortical interneurons ensure maintenance of frequency tuning following adaptation. Cell Reports in press, 2017.

Gervain J, Werker JF, Black A, Geffen MN: The neural correlates of processing scale-invariant environmental sounds at birth. Neuroimage 133: 144-50, Jun 2016.

Blackwell JM, Taillefumier TO, Natan RG, Carruthers IM, Magnasco MO, Geffen MN: Stable encoding of sounds over a broad range of statistical parameters in the auditory cortex. Eur J Neurosci 43(6): 751–64, Mar 2016.

Aizenberg M, Mwilambwe-Tshilobo L, Briguglio JJ, Natan RG, Geffen MN: Bidirectional Regulation of Innate and Learned Behaviors That Rely on Frequency Discrimination by Cortical Inhibitory Neurons. PLoS Biol 13(12): e1002308, Dec 2015.

Carruthers IM, Laplagne DA, Jaegle A, Briguglio JJ, Mwilambwe-Tshilobo L, Natan RG, Geffen MN: Emergence of invariant representation of vocalizations in the auditory cortex. J Neurophysiol 114(5): 2726-40, Nov 2015.

Natan RG, Briguglio JJ, Mwilambwo-Tshilobo L, Jones SI, Aizenberg M, Goldberg EM, Geffen MN: Complementary control of sensory adaptation by two types of cortical interneurons. ELife 4(13): 4, Oct 2015.

Mwilambwe-Tshilobo L, Davis AJ, Aizenberg M, Geffen MN: Selective Impairment in Frequency Discrimination in a Mouse Model of Tinnitus. PloS One 10(9): e0137749, Sep 2015.

Gervain J, Werker JF, Geffen MN: Category-specific processing of scale-invariant sounds in infancy. PloS One 9(5): e96278, May 2014.

back to top
Last updated: 10/12/2017
The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania