About Us


The Brain Institute - UFRN (Instituto do Cérebro, ICe) in Natal is an academic unit of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte dedicated to the experimental and theoretical research in Neurosciences. It is firmly committed to the education of young investigators and dissemination of Science. The Institute hosts 13 laboratories in diverse fields including Computation Neurosciences, Cellular, and Molecular Neurobiology, Sensory and Motor Systems, Behavior, Memory, and Cognition. Currently, we have 17 principal investigators (professors at the UFRN), 26 staff members, as well as 11 post-doctoral fellows and 63 students from various places of Brazil and abroad.

The Institute holds a Graduate Program in Neurosciences (PG-Neuro), which offers academic courses and scientific training at master and doctoral levels. Members of the Brain Institute also contribute to other post-graduation programs in the UFRN, such as the PG-Psychobiology and PG-Bioinformatics. The Institute is also active in guiding undergraduate students in their first steps in Science. The ICe-UFRN champions many lines of activity to widely disseminate knowledge about the brain, cognition and mental health and its implications to society at large.

The ICe-UFRN is also responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the Undergraduate Teaching in Neurosciences, at the School of Science and Technology of UFRN, which attends approximately 250 undergraduate students per year.

DIRECTORS (2018-2022)




The Brain Institute is located in Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte. Currently, the Institute comprises two buildings of 860 m2 and 360 m2, situated at Av. Nascimento de Castro Avenue, 2151 and 2155, near the UFRN Central Campus. The two buildings house 13 laboratories. The ICe-UFRN also occupies a portion of the Multidisciplinary Nucleus of Bioinformatics of UFRN (BioMe), at Av. Odilon Gomes de Lima Avenue 1722.

At present, the Brain Institute’s own building is in the final stage of construction at the UFRN Central Campus. The new building will occupy an area of approximately 7000 m2 and its inauguration is scheduled for the end of 2018.


The Brain Institute was first thought in 1995, when a group of Brazilian neuroscientists, working abroad, planned to build a cutting-edge brain research center in Brazil. The proposal was focused on promoting scientific debates, scientific excellence, and training of qualified human resources to achieve social transformation. The project was carried out at UFRN in 2011, with support from the Ministry of Education (MEC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCTI). An international recruitment effort made it possible that in recent years, several Brazilian and foreign researchers, trained in important research centers in the United States and Europe, have settled in Natal and embarked on the task of constructing the Brain Institute. The ICe-UFRN was officially inaugurated on May 13, 2011.


The Brain Institute follows four main lines of research:

Systems & Cognitive Neurobiology

Cellular & Molecular Neurobiology

Computational Neuroscience


Systems & Cognition Neurobiology approaches sensory and motor functions, as well as higher cognitive processes, in a systemic perspective. Topics include vision, hearing, touch, taste, olfaction, motor planning and execution, and the interference of motivational states. We study the anatomical and functional organization during development and adult life, as well as dynamics in normal and pathological conditions, such as epilepsy and depression. Several techniques including electrophysiology, neuropharmacology, electroencephalography, magnetic resonance imaging, optical imaging, reversible deactivation and transcranial magnetic stimulation are employed in the Institute.

Cellular & Molecular Neurobiology focuses on the study of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying development, plasticity, learning, and memory. This research line aims to understand mechanisms involved in the phenotypic specification of progenitors and postmitotic cells, cell proliferation and migration, dendritic and axonal growth, and synaptogenesis. It is also directed to the study of structural and functional modifications of neural connections that allow the acquisition of new behavioral patterns throughout life. These mechanisms, orchestrated in a precise way, are responsible for generating the different structures of the central nervous system (CNS), including the cerebral cortex, the center of our cognitive abilities. Therefore, understanding these mechanisms is fundamental for the identification of structural and functional changes of the CNS underlying various neurodevelopmental, neurological and psychiatric diseases, as well as to approach new therapeutic strategies for such diseases.

Computational Neuroscience is aimed at developing mathematical and computer models to simulate and understand the organization and function of the nervous system. It is an interdisciplinary discipline that combines different fields, such as neurobiology, neuroimaging, physics, computer science, electrical engineering, applied mathematics, and psychobiology.

Neuroinformatics employs mathematical and physical tools, through computational programming, for the analysis of large datasets from experimental research in neurosciences.


Several teaching and research collaborations were established between the Brain Institute’s investigators and researchers from the Departments of Physiology, Biophysics, Biochemistry, Computer Engineering and Automation and Biomedical Engineering of the UFRN. The Institute also has close interactions with the Onofre Lopes University Hospital (HUOL-UFRN), the Institute of Tropical Medicine (IMT-UFRN), the International Institute of Physics (IIF-UFRN) and the Digital Metropolis Institute (IMD-UFRN), which houses supercomputing facilities.

At the international level, the Institute has ongoing collaborations with the Max Planck Society and the Ernst Strüngmann Institute (Germany), the Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany), the University of Uppsala (Sweden), the Rockefeller University (USA), the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the CNRS (France), the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain), and the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina), among others.


The Brain Institute holds a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) represented by world-renowned scientists, including Charles Gilbert (Rockefeller University, currently SAB chairman), Torsten Wiesel (Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, President Emeritus of Rockefeller University), Yves Fregnac (CNRS), Henry Markram (founder and director of the Brain Mind Institute in École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne), Pierre Magistretti (BMI) and Claudio Mello (OHSU). The first Council meeting of the Brain Institute SAB was held in 2014.


The Institute carries out several scientific, cultural and sports activities with children, adolescents and adults from public schools, public hospitals, and poor communities. The projects are carried out in partnership with other UFRN departments, as well as public and private institutions and entities of Rio Grande do Norte. From 2011 to 2017, these actions reached an audience of approximately 18,000.