Knight, Zachary, Ph.D.

Professor, UCSF School of Medicine, Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical institute

Ph.D. in Chemistry and Chemical Biology, University of California - San Francisco
B.A. in Chemistry, Princeton University

The Knight lab studies the connection between physiology and behavior. Our goal is to understand how the brain senses the needs of the body – such as theneed for food or water or warmth – and then generates specificbehavioral responses that restore physiologic balance. To address this question, we use a diverse set of experimental strategies including systems neuroscience approaches such as optogenetics, electrophysiology, and calcium imaging; molecular approaches such as RNA sequencing and mouse genetics; and classical approaches such as surgical and pharmacologic manipulations. In addition, we develop new tools that enable the molecular identification of functional populations of neurons by RNA capture and sequencing. Through the use of these approaches, we aim to identify the molecules, cell types, interconnections, and activity patterns that drive homeostatic behaviors, and further uncover how these circuit elements become dysregulated in conditions such as obesity.


Our research is focused on three related topics: the control of hunger, thirst, and body temperature. A general principle emerging from our recent work has been the discovery that homeostatic circuits – long thought to function primarily by reacting to physiologic imbalances – instead utilize sensory cues to anticipate those physiologic changes and then adjust behavior preemptively. An ongoing interest of the lab is to understand how homeostatic circuits integrate sensory information from the outside world with internal signals arising from the body in order to generate and shape goal-directed behaviors.

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Zachary Knight earned his B.A. in Chemistry from Princeton University and his Ph.D. in Chemical Biology from UCSF. Following postdoctoral training at Rockefeller University, Dr. Knight joined the Department of Physiology as an Assistant Professor.

Dr. Knight is a Robertson Neuroscience Investigator of the New York Stem Cell Foundation. His work has been recognized by awards from the Sloan, McKnight, Rita Allen, Klingenstein, and Brain and Behavior Research Foundations, as well as NIH New Innovator and Pathway to Independence Awards. Most recently, Dr. Knight received a Pathway Award from the American Diabetes Association and the Helmholtz Young Investigator in Diabetes Award.

Brooke Jarvie, Postdoc

Claire Gizowski, Postdoc

Shenliang Yu, Postdoc

Tara Aitken, Graduate Student, UCSF Neuroscience Program

James Grove, Graduate Student, UCSF Neuroscience Program

Truong Ly, Graduate Student, UCSF Neuroscience Program

Zhengya Liu, Graduate Student, UCSF Neuroscience Program

Jun (Joseph) Oh, Medical Student, UCSF School of Medicine

Nilla Sivakumar, Specialist

Laura Wise, Adminstrative Assistant