Throughout her PhD and now into her postdoc, Sarah has sought to understand how negative experiences (from unpleasant to traumatic) lead to changes in neural signaling, neural activity dynamics, and altered behavior.

Sarah has expertise in running large-scale rodent behavioral studies, including using optogenetics, chemogenetics, photometry, and mini-endoscope recordings to observe and manipulate neural activity during freely-moving behavior. The imaging studies have entailed development and implementation of pre-processing and statistical analytical methods for large-scale imaging datasets in MATLAB.

During her postdoc, Sarah has imaged a stress-responsive genetically defined population of neurons in the mouse lateral septum. Through experiments using freely-moving anxiety and fear assays, she has outlined a novel role for this population in behavioral state regulation and appropriate response to unexpected potential threats.


Sarah received her PhD from UCLA in 2010, for the role of the cholinergic system in contextual learning and traumatic fear. She is currently in the lab of Todd Anthony in the Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children's Hospital, where she studies the role of a stress-responsive lateral septal neuronal population on stress, anxiety, and fear. Outside of the lab, Sarah is a published fiction author and member of the classical singing group, Back Bay Chorale.

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  • Imaging stress/anxiety

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Publications powered by Harvard Catalyst Profiles

  1. Hersman S, Hoffman AN, Hodgins L, Shieh S, Lam J, Parikh A, Fanselow MS. Cholinergic Signaling Alters Stress-Induced Sensitization of Hippocampal Contextual Learning. Front Neurosci. 2019; 13:251. View abstract
  2. Hersman S, Cushman J, Lemelson N, Wassum K, Lotfipour S, Fanselow MS. Optogenetic excitation of cholinergic inputs to hippocampus primes future contextual fear associations. Sci Rep. 2017 05 24; 7(1):2333. View abstract
  3. Hersman S, Rodriguez Barrera V, Fanselow M. Assigning Function to Adult-Born Neurons: A Theoretical Framework for Characterizing Neural Manipulation of Learning. Front Syst Neurosci. 2015; 9:182. View abstract
  4. Zelikowsky M, Hersman S, Chawla MK, Barnes CA, Fanselow MS. Neuronal ensembles in amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex track differential components of contextual fear. J Neurosci. 2014 Jun 18; 34(25):8462-6. View abstract
  5. Fanselow MS, Zelikowsky M, Perusini J, Barrera VR, Hersman S. Isomorphisms between psychological processes and neural mechanisms: from stimulus elements to genetic markers of activity. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2014 Feb; 108:5-13. View abstract