Alexandra Nelson, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor
Fields of Interest: 

Dr. Nelson is the Richard and Shirley Cahill Endowed Chair in Parkinson’s Disease Research at UCSF. She is both a neuroscientist and behavioral neurologist and is particularly interested in understanding neurodegenerative movement disorders. After undergraduate work at Stanford University, she received her medical and doctorate degrees in neuroscience at UC San Diego, where she studied cerebellar motor learning. She completed her Neurology residency and postdoctoral fellowship training at UC San Francisco and the Gladstone Institutes, where she studied basal ganglia circuits involved in Parkinson’s disease and dystonia. She joined the faculty at UCSF in 2014, establishing her laboratory in the Sandler Neurosciences Center. At the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, she provides care for patients and families with disorders of movement and cognition, such as Huntington’s disease, spinocerebellar ataxia and atypical parkinsonism and is part of the clinical and research team at the Huntington’s Disease Center of Excellence at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center.

Dr. Nelson’s laboratory studies the cells and circuits involved in movement disorders, using a combination of mouse models of disease, electrophysiology and neural stimulation techniques, including optogenetics. She hopes that this work will help distinguish brain regions, cells and patterns of brain activity that promote normal movement from those that produce pathological movement, allowing more focused development of new treatments for movement disorders.


A Diagnostic Ceiling for Exome Sequencing in Cerebellar Ataxia and Related Neurological Disorders.

Human mutation

Ngo KJ, Rexach JE, Lee H, Petty LE, Perlman S, Valera JM, Deignan JL, Mao Y, Aker M, Posey JE, Jhangiani SN, Coban-Akdemir ZH, Boerwinkle E, Muzny D, Nelson AB, Hassin-Baer S, Poke G, Neas K, Geschwind MD, Grody WW, Gibbs R, Geschwind DH, Lupski JR, Below JE, Nelson SF, Fogel BL

Functionally Distinct Connectivity of Developmentally Targeted Striosome Neurons.

Cell reports

McGregor MM, McKinsey GL, Girasole AE, Bair-Marshall CJ, Rubenstein JLR, Nelson AB

Circuit Mechanisms of Parkinson's Disease.


McGregor MM, Nelson AB

Aberrant Striatal Activity in Parkinsonism and Levodopa-Induced Dyskinesia.

Cell reports

Ryan MB, Bair-Marshall C, Nelson AB

Expanding the global prevalence of spinocerebellar ataxia type 42.

Neurology. Genetics

Ngo K, Aker M, Petty LE, Chen J, Cavalcanti F, Nelson AB, Hassin-Baer S, Geschwind MD, Perlman S, Italiano D, Laganà A, Cavallaro S, Coppola G, Below JE, Fogel BL

A Subpopulation of Striatal Neurons Mediates Levodopa-Induced Dyskinesia.


Girasole AE, Lum MY, Nathaniel D, Bair-Marshall CJ, Guenthner CJ, Luo L, Kreitzer AC, Nelson AB

500 Fronto-Striatal Modulation of Anxiety-Like Behaviors.

Biological psychiatry

Lisa Gunaydin, Alexandra Nelson, Anatol Kreitzer

BK Channels Are Required for Multisensory Plasticity in the Oculomotor System.


Nelson AB, Faulstich M, Moghadam S, Onori K, Meredith A, du Lac S

Parkinsonism Driven by Antipsychotics Originates from Dopaminergic Control of Striatal Cholinergic Interneurons.


Kharkwal G, Brami-Cherrier K, Lizardi-Ortiz JE, Nelson AB, Ramos M, Del Barrio D, Sulzer D, Kreitzer AC, Borrelli E

Probing striatal microcircuitry to understand the functional role of cholinergic interneurons.

Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society

Girasole AE, Nelson AB

Striatal cholinergic neurotransmission requires VGLUT3.

The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Nelson AB, Bussert TG, Kreitzer AC, Seal RP

Striatal cholinergic interneurons Drive GABA release from dopamine terminals.


Nelson AB, Hammack N, Yang CF, Shah NM, Seal RP, Kreitzer AC

Reassessing models of basal ganglia function and dysfunction.

Annual review of neuroscience

Nelson AB, Kreitzer AC

Seizures and epileptiform activity in the early stages of Alzheimer disease.

JAMA neurology

Vossel KA, Beagle AJ, Rabinovici GD, Shu H, Lee SE, Naasan G, Hegde M, Cornes SB, Henry ML, Nelson AB, Seeley WW, Geschwind MD, Gorno-Tempini ML, Shih T, Kirsch HE, Garcia PA, Miller BL, Mucke L

Hilar GABAergic interneuron activity controls spatial learning and memory retrieval.

PloS one

Andrews-Zwilling Y, Gillespie AK, Kravitz AV, Nelson AB, Devidze N, Lo I, Yoon SY, Bien-Ly N, Ring K, Zwilling D, Potter GB, Rubenstein JL, Kreitzer AC, Huang Y

A comparison of striatal-dependent behaviors in wild-type and hemizygous Drd1a and Drd2 BAC transgenic mice.

The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Nelson AB, Hang GB, Grueter BA, Pascoli V, Luscher C, Malenka RC, Kreitzer AC

Hilar GABAergic interneuron activity controls spatial learning and memory retrieval.

Alzheimer's & Dementia

Yaisa Andrews-Zwilling, Anna Gillespie, Alexxai Kravitz, Alexandra Nelson, Nino Devidze, Iris Lo, Seo Yeon Yoon, Nga Bien-Ly, Karen Ring, Daniel Zwilling, Gregory Potter, John Rubenstein, Anatol Kreitzer, Yadong Huang

Distinct roles of GABAergic interneurons in the regulation of striatal output pathways.

The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Gittis AH, Nelson AB, Thwin MT, Palop JJ, Kreitzer AC

Speech-activated myoclonus masquerading as stuttering.


Gelfand JM, Nelson AB, Fross RD, Glass GA

Long-lasting increases in intrinsic excitability triggered by inhibition.


Nelson AB, Krispel CM, Sekirnjak C, du Lac S