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Staff Clinician

Eric Wassermann, M.D.

Behavioral Neurology Unit

Building 10 Room 7D43

Bethesda MD 20892-1430
Office: 301-496-0151
Lab: 301-496-0151
Fax: 301-480-2909

Dr. Wassermann received his B.A. from Swarthmore College, his M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania where he studied behavioral neurophysiology with C.R. Gallistel, and his M.D. from New York Medical College. After a Neurology Residency at the Boston City Hospital, he came to the NINDS as a postdoctoral fellow in the Human Motor Control Section, where he studied the physiology of the motor cortex and the control of voluntary movement. In 1997, he established the Brain Stimulation Unit to extend the same techniques and concepts to investigating the prefrontal cortex and the control of emotion and action. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Pfizer Visiting Professorship in psychiatry, two NIH Director's Awards, and the US Public Health Service Outstanding Service Medal. Dr. Wassermann’s clinical interests include behavioral neurology, clinical neurophysiology, and chemical casualty care. He directs the clinical activities of the NINDS Cognitive Neuroscience Section and serves as a Senior Medical Advisor to the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

Ongoing clinical studies include the evaluation of warfighters with traumatic brain injury and blast exposure. We are currently conducting Phase IV of the Vietnam Head Injury Study, an in-depth cognitive and lesion anatomy evaluation of several hundred brain injured veterans and combat-exposed controls. Some of our work is sponsored by the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS).

We study the brain systems underlying learning, executive function, and behavioral regulation, using noninvasive stimulation and imaging techniques an innovative behavioral tools. Our main clinical interest is in the physiological and neuroanatomical basis of excess mental and physicial fatigue after brain injury. In particular, we are interested in how lesions of the dopamine reward system and other monoaminergic projections to the forebrain interfere with human behavior. We are also interested in developing new treatments for patients with frontal lobe (executive) disorders and ways of enhancing cognitive functions in healthy individuals.

Using noninvasive brain stimulation techniques and structural and functional MRI, and MR spectroscopy, we are investigating the mechanisms of rewarded behaviors, for example, learning and sustained effort, in the human brain. New thrusts include incorporating near infrared spectroscopy into our work in healthy subjects and patients.

Transcranial Brain Stimulation


Transcranial magnetic stimulation is safe and noninvasive means of getting electrical energy across the insulating tissues of the head and into the brain. A powerful and rapidly changing electrical current is passed through a coil of wire applied near the head. The magnetic field, oriented perpendicular to the plane of the coil passes virtually unimpeded through the scalp and skull. In the brain, the magnetic field produces currents in the induced electrical field lying parallel to the plane of the coil. These currents are able to excite neural processes lying in the plane of the induced field in a manner roughly analogous to direct cortical stimulation with electrodes. In properly designed experiments, TMS can be a powerful physiological probe of cortical cortical function for clinical and basic neurophysiology. It is also an effective technique for altering the responsiveness of human brain circuits and may have therapeutic applications, as well.

DC brain polarization is a decades old technique for modulating the activity of neural tissues. These effects are highly selective for the polarity and the orientation of neurons in the field. The older literature contains instances of its ability to produce overt changes in behavior and newer studies show that quantifiable alterations in human cortical responses can be produced safely. We are investigating how to use DC fields to modulate and improve human cognitive performance.

Clinical Protocol

  • Detecting a reward signal in the motor cortex 07-N-0063

  • Effects of reward on learning in the motor cortex 09-N-0124

  • Fatigue and Amotivation Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and their Influence on Service Member Community Reintegration 12-N-0030

  • Experienced Breacher Study: Evaluation of the Effects from Chronic Exposure to Low-Level Blast 12-N-0065

  • Warfighter Head Injury Study - a Comprehensive, Multidisciplinary Research Evaluation 08-N-0198

  • The Effect of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation on Learning with Reward in Healthy Human 11-N-0055

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  • Andrea Brioschi-Guevara, M.A.
    Special Volunteer
    Phone :
    Email :

  • Takaaki Hattori, M.D., Ph.D.
    Research Fellow
    Phone :
    Email :

  • Aysha Keisler, Ph.D.
    Predoctoral Fellow
    Phone :
    Email :

  • Kris Knutson, M.S.
    Phone :
    Email :

  • Jeffrey Lewis, M.D., Ph.D.
    Visiting Fellow
    Phone :
    Email :

  • Lena Polejaeva, B.Sc.
    Research Assistant
    Phone :
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  • Adam Steel, B.A.
    Post baccalaureate Fellow
    Phone :
    Email :

  • Michael Tierney, M.A.
    Phone :
    Email :

  • Leonora Wilkinson, Ph.D.
    Research Fellow
    Phone :
    Email :

  • 1) Abe M, Schambra H, Wassermann EM, Luckenbaugh D, Schweighofer N and LG Cohen (2011)
  • Reward improves long-term retention of a motor memory through induction of offline memory gains.
  • Current Biology, 21, 557-62
  • 2) Amyot F, Zimmermann T, Riley J, Kainerstorfer JM, Najafizadeh L, Chernomordik V, Mooshagian E, Krueger F, Wassermann EM (2012)
  • Normative database of judgment of complexity task with functional near infrared spectroscopy - Application for TBI
  • Neuroimage, 60, 879-883
  • 3) Wassermann EM, Zimmermann (2012)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation: Therapeutic promises and scientific gaps
  • Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 133, 98-107
  • 4) Kapogiannis D, Mooshagian E, Campion P, Grafman J, Zimmermann TJ, Ladt KC, Wassermann EM. (2011)
  • Reward processing abnormalities in Parkinson's disease
  • Movement disorders
  • 5) 106. Clark, VP, Coffman, BA, Mayer, AM, Weisend, MP, Lane, TDR, Calhoun, VD, Raybourn, EM, Garcia, C, Wassermann, EM. (2011)
  • TDCS guided using fMRI significantly accelerates learning to identify concealed objects
  • NeuroImage
  • 6) Wassermann EM, Epstein CM, Ziemann U, Walsh V, Paus T, LIsanby SH (Eds.) (2008)
  • The Oxford Handbook of Transcranial Stimulation
  • Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • 7) Kapogiannis D, Campion P, Grafman J, Wassermann EM (2008)
  • Reward-related activity in the human motor cortex
  • European Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 1836-1842
  • 8) Gilbert DL, Wang Z, Sallee FR, Ridel KR, Merhar S, Zhang J, Lipps TD, White C, Badreldin N, Wassermann EM (2006)
  • Dopamine transporter genotype influences the physiological response to medication in ADHD
  • Brain, 129, 791-808
  • 9) Huey ED, Grafman J, Wassermann EM, Pietrini P, Tierney MC, Ghetti B, Spina S, Baker M, Hutton M, Elder JW, Berger SL, Heflin KA, Hardy J, Momeni P. (2006)
  • Characteristics of frontotemporal dementia patients with a Progranulin mutation.
  • Ann Neurol, 60, 374-80
  • 10) Gilbert DL, Ridel KR, Sallee FR, Zhang J, Lipps TD, Wassermann EM (2006)
  • Comparison of the inhibitory and excitatory effects of ADHD medications methylphenidate and atomoxetine on motor cortex
  • Neuropsychopharmacology, 31, 442-9
  • 11) Wassermann EM, Grafman J (2005)
  • Recharging cognition with DC brain polarization
  • Trends Cog Neurosci, 9, 503-505
  • 12) Iyer MB, Mattu U, Grafman J, Lomarev M, Sato S, Wassermann EM (2005)
  • Safety and Cognitive effect of frontal DC brain polarization in healthy individuals
  • Neurology, 64, 872-876
  • 13) Gilbert DL, Sallee FR, Zhang J, Lipps T, Wassermann EM (2005)
  • TMS-evoked cortical inhibition: a consistent marker of ADHD scores in Tourette syndrome
  • Biol Psychiatry, 57, 1597-600
  • 14) Speer AM, Willis MW, Herscovitch P, Daube-Witherspoon M., Shelton-Repella J, Benson BE, Post RM, Wassermann EM (2003)
  • Intensity-dependent regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) during 1 Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in healthy volunteers studied with H215O PET
  • Biol Psychiatry
  • 15) Iyer MB, Schleper N, Wassermann EM (2003)
  • Priming stimulation enhances the depressant effect of low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • J Neurosci, 23, 10867-10872
  • 16) Smith MJ, Adams LF, Schmidt PJ, Rubinow DR, Wassermann EM (2002)
  • Ovarian hormone effects on human cortical excitability
  • Ann Neurol, 51, 599-603
  • 17) Wassermann EM (2002)
  • Variation in the Response to Transcranial Magnetic Brain Stimulation in the general population
  • Clin Neurophysiol, 113, 1165-1171
  • 18) Wassermann EM, Greenberg, BD, Nguyen MB, Murphy DL  (2001)
  • Motor cortex excitability correlates with an anxiety-related personality trait
  • Biological Psychiatry , 50, 377-382
  • 19) Wassermann EM, Lisanby SH (2001)
  • Therapeutic application of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation: a review
  • Clinical Neurophysiology, 112, 1367-1377
  • 20) Greenberg BD, Ziemann U, Cora-Locatelli G, Harmon A, Murphy DL, Wassermann EM (2000)
  • Altered Cortical Excitability in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Neurology, 54, 142-147
  • 21) Wassermann EM, Blaxton TA, Hoffman EA, Berry CD, Oletsky H, Pascual-Leone A, Theodore WH (1999)
  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation of the dominant hemisphere can disrupt visual naming in temporal lobe epilepsy patients
  • Neuropsychologia , 37, 537-54

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