Montana State University

Department of Cell Biology & Neuroscience

Montana State University
P.O. Box 173148
Bozeman, MT 59717-3148

Tel: (406) 994-5120
Fax: (406) 994-7077
Location: 510 Leon Johnson Hall

Department Chair

Frances Lefcort, Ph.D.


Cell Biology & Neuroscience Facebook Link

Gwen Jacobs, Professor

  Gwen Jacobs photo
Gwen Jacobs

Contact Information

01 Lewis Hall
(406) 994-7334

Systems Neuroscience, Informatics and Information Technology

My research and scholarship efforts fall into 4 different areas: 1) basic neuroscience research on sensory processing, 2) basic and applied research on informatics and data sharing techniques for the neuroscience community, 3) implementation of IT-based infrastructure for the science and education communities and 4) science pedagogy.

Cellular mechanisms of information processing in sensory systems:
For many years, my research has focused on understanding the cellular mechanisms of information processing in a simple sensory system, the cricket cercal sensory system, using a combination of anatomical, physiological and modeling techniques. My work is focused on developing and refining a model of the system that incorporates the physiological and anatomical properties of both sets of cells, the primary afferents and the sensory interneurons. I am also very interested in the role of dendritic structure in controlling computational mechanisms, by both altering the structure of cell models and by analyzing structures of different interneurons and looking for conserved features that can be related to functional properties.

Neuroinformatics: The NeuroSys Project:
The NeuroSys project, funded through the Human Brain Project at NIMH, has great potential to make a major impact on one of the most vexing problems in databases and information sharing: enabling individual investigators to annotate their data, through the construction of in lab databases. With the software we have developed, investigators can build their own databases and establish their own ontologies and vocabularies. We are developing a new approach to building databases based on a semi-structured data model that is simpler (from a structural standpoint) and more predictable (from a semantic standpoint) than a typical relational database. With our software, users can construct their own electronic laboratory notebooks and use them to annotate, store and query their data. This approach also enables data sharing and database integration between small groups of collaborators. We support the open source model of software development, all of the source code we have developed is annotated and freely available to the community. Most recently our team is the recipient of a grant from the Montana Research and Commercialization Board to commercialize this software with Bridger Informatics, a local software company.

The Lariat Networking Project:
I am the PI on a $10M project funded through the National Center for Research Resources that has developed and implemented a plan to provide a high-speed telecommunications network for biomedical researchers in six institutions in rural states in the West. This network, called Lariat, will enable scientists and educators in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming to take advantage of the wealth of remote research resources and expertise available to scientists in other areas of the country. My continuing role in this project is to identify research applications that will be enhanced by the network and to introduce investigators at each of the Lariat sites to new research and training opportunities made available through this project.

The Hughes Undergraduate Biology Curriculum:
In 2002, Montana State University received a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to support a fundamental, comprehensive revision of the undergraduate Biology curriculum. We are continuing those efforts for the next four years; I serve as the PI of that effort. We will continue these efforts by expanding and extending the depth, breadth and effectiveness of our Biology curriculum development efforts. The overarching goals of our program are to: 1) Equip every student with a set of experimental, analytical and computational skills that will provide the foundation to engage a wide variety of biological problems. Education and research training is focused on the integration of knowledge and the development of models of biological systems, across multiple organizational levels. 2) Advance the state of the art with regard to multidisciplinary, collaborative, team-oriented academic training. We have established an effective educational and research environment that fosters and encourages students to interact with, and learn from, other students and faculty. We will build upon that foundation to extend, enhance and institutionalize those aspects of our program. 3) Attract under-represented groups, especially Native Americans and women, to pursue advanced degrees in areas of biological science that are computationally and mathematically rigorous.

Selected Publications

Ogawa H, Cummins GI, Jacobs GA and Miller JP (2006) Visualization of Ensemble Activity Patterns of Mechanosensory Afferents in the Cricket Cercal Sensory System with Calcium Imaging. J. Neurobiol. 66: 293-307.

Cummins GI, Crook SM, Dimitrov AG, Ganje T, Jacobs GA and Miller JP (2003) Structural and biophysical mechanisms underlying dynamic sensitivity of primary sensory interneurons in the cricket cercal sensory system. Neurocomputing 52: 45-52.

Pittendrigh, C.S. and G.A. Jacobs (2003) NeuroSys: A Semi-structured database. Neuroinformatics, Vol.1:2 167-176.

Gardner D, Toga AW, Ascoli GA, Beatty JT, Brinkley JF, Dale AM, Fox PT, Gardner EP, George JS, Goddard N, Harris KM, Herskovits EH, Hines ML, Jacobs GA, Jacobs RE, Jones EG, Kennedy DN, Kimberg DY, Mazziotta JC, Miller PL, Mori S, Mountain DC, Reiss AL, Rosen GD, Rottenberg DA, Shepherd GM, Smalheiser NR, Smith KP, Strachan T, Van Essen DC, Williams RW, Wong ST. (2003) Towards effective and rewarding data sharing. Neuroinformatics: 1 (3) 289-95.

Jacobs, G.A. and C.S. Pittendrigh (2002)"Predicting emergent properties of neuronal ensembles a database of individual neurons". in "Computational Neuroanatomy" G. Ascoli, Ed. Humana Press.

Jacobs, G.A. and F.E. Theunissen (2000) Extraction of sensory parameters from a neural map by primary sensory interneurons. J. Neuroscience 20: 2934-2943.

Jacobs, G.A. and F.E. Theunissen (1996) Functional organization of a neural map in the cricket cercal sensory system, J. Neuroscience, 16:769-784.

Roddey, J.C. and G.A. Jacobs (1996) Information theoretic analysis of dynamical encoding by filiform mechanoreceptors in the cricket cercal system J. Neurophysiol. 75: 1365-1476.

Jacobs GA (1996) Analysis of information processing in the nervous system using a database of identified neurons. Neuroimage 3:23-4.

Landolfa, M. and G. A. Jacobs (1995) Direction Sensitivity of the Filiform Hair Population of the Cricket Cercal System. J. Comp. Physiol. A. 177: 759-766.


B.A. Anatomy and Physiology, University of California, Berkeley 1976

M.A. Physiology, University of California, Davis 1979

Ph.D. Neurobiology, State University of New York at Albany, 1984


Department Head, Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Montana State University 2000-2006

Director, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Biology Curriculum 2002 - 2010

Member, Editorial Board, Neuroinformatics, Humana Press, 2002-present

Member, Pacific Northwest Gigapop Advisory Board 2003-present

Member, Committee on Neuroinformatics, Society for Neuroscience 2004 - 2008

Member, Northern Tier Networking Consortium 2006 - present