William B. Kristan, Jr., Ph.D.

The Department of Neurobiology hosts the Stephen W. Kuffler Lecture to honor the memory of the founding Chairman of the Department. Family, friends, colleagues and former students of Dr. Kuffler donated funds in his memory to create an endowed fund to support the Kuffler lecture.

Steve Kuffler served as Chairman of the Department of Neurobiology from its formation in 1966 until 1974 when he decided to give up his administrative duties and return to the lab. Steve had a quick wit, a ready smile and an irrepressible sense of humor. He formed a warm and close friendship with colleagues all over the world. After a full, happy and productive life, Steve Kuffler died on October 11, 1980 (Katz in McMahan 107-134).



Kuffler Lecture
April 13, 2017
Armenise Amphitheater


2017 Lecturer: William B. Kristan, Jr., Ph.D.
"Behavioral Choice: A Neuronal Group Decision"
Distinguished Professor, Emeritus
Section of Neurobiology
Division of Biological Sciences 
University of California, San Diego

William Kristan has studied neuronal circuits in the medicinal leech since 1972. Initially he worked out circuitry for four different behaviors—swimming, crawling, local bending, and shortening—and showed that different behaviors were produced by quite different neuronal strategies. In these studies, his laboratory group used a variety of techniques including electrophysiology, voltage-sensitive dyes, serial EM reconstruction, and computational modeling. Having established the neuronal basis of individual behaviors, his research group then studied how these neuronal circuits interact to produce a clear choice when presented with conflicting stimuli. They have found that there are several types of mechanisms for making these choices: inhibition of sensory input, combinatorial coding, and alternative dynamic states of an interconnected network. A surprising result in all of these studies is that many of the behavior-generating neurons are multifunctional, i.e., they are involved in more than one behavior. These mechanisms for making behavioral choices are now being found in other animals, including those with extremely complex nervous systems. The pioneering research in the Kristan laboratory has helped to establish the neuronal basis for understanding how such choices are made.

Dr. Kristan received his B.A. in Biology at Wabash College in 1964 and his Ph.D. in Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania with Dr. George Gerstein in 1969. After postdoctoral stints at Stanford (with Dr. Donald Kennedy) and UC Berkeley (with Dr. Gunther Stent), he became an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at UC San Diego in 1975. He has remained at UCSD for his entire career, retiring in 2016 as Distinguished Professor. He served as the Director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program from 1997 to 2004, and as Chair of his Department twice, in 2003-2008 and 2012-2014,

Dr. Kristan has been a Guggenheim Fellow; a Fellow of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Bielefeld, Germany; a Member Scientific Advisory Board of the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, FL; a founding faculty member in the Neural Systems and Behavior Course, Marine Biology Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA in 1978 and faculty member many years thereafter; and he received the UCSD Chancellor’s Associates Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, as well as the SfN Award for Education in Neuroscience.

Invited Kuffler Lecturers are traditionally individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of neurobiology. Past speakers have been:

  • April 2016: Richard D. Mooney, Duke University School of Medicine
  • April 2014: Leslie B. Vosshall, The Rockefeller University
  • February 2013: Roderick MacKinnon, The Rockefeller University
  • April 2012: David W. Tank, Princeton University
  • April 2011: David J. Anderson, California Institute of Technology, Division of Biology
  • April 2010: Richard Axel, Columbia University
  • April 2009: Karel Svoboda, HHMI- Janelia Farm
  • April 2008: A. James Hudspeth, Rockefeller University
    Recording of 2008 Kuffler Lecture (requires Real Media player)
  • April 2007: Linda Buck, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
  • March 2006: Solomon Snyder, The Johns Hopkins Hospital
  • January 2005: Cornelia Bargmann, The Rockefeller University
  • February 2004: Eric Knudsen, Stanford University
  • January 2003: Thomas Jessell, Columbia University
  • January 2002: William Newsome, Stanford University
  • January 2001: David Julius, University of California
  • December 1999: Lily and Yuh Nung Jan, University of California
  • November 1997: Kevin Campbell, University of Iowa
  • December 1996: Joshua Sanes, Washington University
  • February 1996: Robert Horvitz, MIT
  • April 1995: Carla Shatz, University of California
  • December 1993: Susumu Tonegawa, MIT
  • October 1992: Bertil Hille, University of Washington
  • May 1992: Torsten Weisel, Rockefeller University
  • May 1990: Gerald Fischbach, Washington University
  • May 1989: Viktor Hamburger, Washington University
  • April 1988: Paul Greengard, Rockefeller University
  • April 1987: Seymour Benzer, University of California
  • May 1986: Ricardo Miledi, University of California