Michael Lazarus

Affiliation:International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine, University of Tsukuba

Research Title


Circuits and functions of the waking, sleeping and dreaming brain

01 Research Summary

The investigative focus of our laboratory is the cellular and synaptic basis by which the brain regulates sleep and wakeful consciousness. Our experiments seek to link the activity of defined sets of neurons with neurobehavioral and electroencephalographic outcomes in behaving animals by using innovative genetically or chemically engineered systems (optogenetics, chemogenetics or optopharmacology) in conjunction with recording of the electrical activity produced by the brain or in-vivo imaging (­fiber-optic endomicroscopy). For example, we investigate the control of sleep and wakefulness by the mesolimbic pathway comprising the ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens. As the mesolimbic pathway is implicated in motivational and cognitive behaviors, changes in vigilant states are likely associated with the motivational and cognitive responses in animals. Moreover, we are interested in the link between sleep loss and the desire to consume unhealthy foods, i.e. junk foods. We recently found that the loss of REM sleep leads to increased consumption of sucrose and fat and that inhibiting neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex reverses the effect of REM sleep loss on sucrose consumption.

Lazarus Laboratory

Lazarus Laboratory

02 Major achievements

Oishi Y, Xu Q, Wang L, Zhang BJ, Takahashi K, Takata Y, Luo YJ, Cherasse Y, Schiffmann SN, de Kerchove d’Exaerde A, Urade Y, Qu WM, Huang ZL, Lazarus M. Slow-wave sleep is controlled by a subset of nucleus accumbens core neurons in mice. Nature Communications, in press.

McEown K, Takata Y, Cherasse Y, Nagata N, Aritake K, Lazarus M. Chemogenetic inhibition of the medial prefrontal cortex reverses the effects of REM sleep loss on sucrose consumption. eLife, 5:e20269, 2016. Featured in ScienceDaily, Yahoo! Japan News (279 comments), Asahi Newspaper and NHK News.

Lazarus M, Shen HY, Cherasse Y, Qu WM, Huang ZL, Bass C, Winsky-Sommerer R, Semba K, Fredholm B, Boison D, Hayaishi O, Urade Y, Chen JF. Arousal Effect of Caffeine Depends on Adenosine A2A Receptors in the Shell of the Nucleus Accumbens. Journal of Neuroscience, 31:10067-10075, 2011.

03 Education/Academic background and major awards

Education/Academic background

1994 Certified Food Scientist, University of Würzburg, Germany
1998 Dr. rer. nat. (Summa cum laude), University of Würzburg, Germany
1999 Takeda Science Foundation Fellow, Department of Molecular Behavioral Biology, Osaka Bioscience Institute, Japan
2000 Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship commissioned by the Japan Science and Technology Agency under the STA fellowship program, Department of Molecular Behavioral Biology, Osaka Bioscience Institute, Japan
2002 NIH Research Fellow, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, USA
2005 Instructor in Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, USA
2007 Senior Scientist, Osaka Bioscience Institute, Osaka, Japan
2013 Associate Professor and Principal Investigator, International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine, Tsukuba University, Japan
2022 Professor and Principal Investigator, International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine, Tsukuba University, Japan


2009 Takeda Science Foundation Research Award
2010 Osaka Bioscience Institute Advisory Board Award
Sankyo Foundation Travel Award
Naito Foundation Research Award


Why did you become a scientist?

I am a logical person

As I am a quite logically thinking person, I was attracted to mathematics, science and technology from an early age. All I ever wanted to become was an engineer or a scientist. At the age of 10, I entered a type of German school called ‘Gymnasium’ derived from the Greek word "gymnasion", which was originally applied to an exercising and teaching ground in ancient Athens. A ‘Gymnasium’ is a secondary school that prepares the student from the beginning for higher education at a university. My school named after the Chemistry Nobel laureate Hermann Staudinger is celebrating the legacy of a great scientist by preparing students to enter a university for advanced academic studies in science and technology.

What are the characteristics of your lab?

We are an international lab

My lab is very international with researchers and students hailing from countries in Europe and Asia. An international lab with people from different backgrounds and cultures can help to encourage critical thinking and promote competitiveness in a global environment. I believe that diversity provides a greater variety of perspectives and ideas, which can lead to more creative solutions. Moreover, English speaking and reading abilities are essential for researchers in neurobiology and a “ticket to a well-paying job”. Galileo Galilei once said, "You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself." In this respect, I would consider my role to be a students’ mentor, who fosters fascination for science, problem solving skills and enthusiasm for innovation.

What are you most interested in lately

Cooking and plants

Life in IIIS is pretty busy; I usually work for 11-12 hours on weekdays and most Saturdays too, while I spent Sundays with my family. I often cook or bake German food on Sundays — I believe that cooking food or conducting a scientific experiment requires a similar set of skills and thinking. I am also interested in plants and try to grow and propagate them on the balcony of my home (or in my office). I have always been interested in Bonsai, the Japanese art form growing trees in containers, and finally, decided to learn how to grow Bonsai trees.