Establishment of the Department of Anatomy:
Moved to Irvine with California College of Medicine in 1968

The Department of Anatomy has a long history dating back to its association with the California College of Medicine, while that college was based in Los Angeles. However, this historical narrative will begin at the time of the move of the College of Medicine to become affiliated with the recently established (1964) Irvine campus of the University of California.

The University of California, Irvine opened as a new campus in the fall of 1964, with strengths in Biological and Physical Sciences. The California legislature along with the UC Board of Regents intended that a School of Medicine would be an essential part of this new University Campus. The UC set to acquire the independent and fully functioning California College of Medicine (at that time located in Los Angeles) and move the College to the Irvine Campus.

The move to the Irvine campus began in 1967; the fall of 1968 welcomed the first class of entering medical students. The Program in Anatomy (at the time of the move, it was not yet a full department) included faculty members Lyle C. Dearden, Ph.D, Earle A Davis, Ph.D, and newly recruited Roland A Giolli, Ph.D. Marshall Johnson, Ph.D. served as department Chair from 1970 to 1973. Lyle Dearden was appointed to serve as Acting chair from 1974 to 1975.

Primary appointee:

Earle Davis, PhD, University of Illinois
Teaching of Gross Anatomy
Retired, 1985

Lyle Dearden, PhD, University of Washington
Teaching of Gross Anatomy
Retired, 1985

Roland Giolli, PhD, UC, Berkeley
Neurobiology of accessory optic system
Retired, 2008



John E. Swett, Chair 1976-1982
Department of Anatomy, for Systems Neurobiology

In 1975, the medical school administration made the important decision to bolster the basic sciences in the College. As a part of that plan, John E. Swett, Ph.D., a neuroscientist studying the somatosensory system, was recruited from the University of Colorado to serve as Chair. Dr. Swett was awarded 6 additional FTE’s to use for recruitment to develop the department in the field of Neurosciences. Dr. Swett was a serious individual who stressed both high quality academic research as well as excellence in teaching. The Department of Anatomy had quadruple teaching load (measured in number of contact hours with medical students) as any of the other basic science departments, and so teaching commitment was an important factor. Indeed, Dr. Swett set as a goal that all faculty members would be able to teach all of the departmental courses that were part of the medical curriculum (Gross Anatomy, Microscopic Anatomy, and Neuroanatomy) and would rotate through the courses, spending 3 years on each course. This philosophy, while making some pedagogical sense, was not supported enthusiastically by the recruited faculty, who realized that research productivity was considerably more important to the advancement of their careers than was breadth of teaching expertise.

Dr. Swett’s vision was to build a neuroscience department focused on the theme of systems neurobiology with an emphasis on sensory systems; his own work was on spinal mechanisms of somatic sensation. He began recruiting in his first year as Chair and in 1977 brought in 3 new faculty members at the Assistant Professor level, including Leonard M. Kitzes, PhD (auditory neurophysiology), Martine J. RoBards , PhD (somatosensory system) and Richard T. Robertson, PhD (development of thalamocortical systems). Activity continued in 1978 with recruitments of Robert H.I. Blanks, PhD (vestibular neurobiology), James H. Fallon, PhD (monoaminergic systems), and Charles E. Ribak, PhD (GABA mediated inhibitory systems in cerebral cortex). Also during this time, Dr. Swett named Herbert Killackey, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychobiology at UCI (studying development of somatosensory barrel fields) to hold a joint appointment in Anatomy. In 1981, Dr. Swett recruited Christine Gall, PhD, (plasticity of limbic system structures) to join the department as Assistant Professor.

The Anatomy faculty agreed that an essential aspect of a quality neuroscience department was the existence of a graduate (PhD) training program. A committee was formed, chaired by Dr. Robertson and including Drs. Dearden and Killackey, which prepared the proposal for a Ph.D. program. At this time, most of the graduate education in the College of Medicine was administered through the School of Biological Sciences, and so the proposal was for a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences, with specialization in Neuroanatomy. The first graduate student class of four students was admitted in 1981.

Dr. Swett stepped down from the Chair in 1982 to return to his laboratory, and Dr. Lyle Dearden again was called upon to serve as Acting Chair.

Primary appointee:

John E Swett, Ph.D., UCLA
Spinal cord circuits of somatosensory system.
Retired, 1989

Robert H.I. Blanks, PhD, UCLA
PostDoc Harvard Medical School
Vestibular system
Relocated to Florida Atlantic University, 1996

James H. Fallon, PhD U. Illinois
PostDoc, UC San Diego
Neurotrophic factors and monoaminergic systems
Retired 2007

Christine Gall, PhD UC Irvine
PostDoc, SUNY Stonybrook
Neurotrophins and neuroplasticity.
Currently Distinguished Professor and Department Chair

Leonard M. Kitzes, PhD, UC Irvine
PostDoc U. Wisconsin
Auditory neurophysiology.
Retired 2008

Charles Ribak, PhD, Boston University
PostDoc City of Hope
Inhibitory neurons and epilepsy
Retired, 2010

Martine J. RoBards, PhD, Florida State University
PostDoc U. Virginia
Somatosensory system
Left UCI, 1981

Richard T Robertson, PhD, UC Irvine
PostDoc, University of Oslo, Norway
Mechanisms of cerebral cortical development
Retired, 2015

Joint appointee:

Herbert Killackey, PhD, Duke University
Development of somatosensory system
Retired, 2013



Edward Jones, Chair 1984-1993
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, for Systems and Molecular Neurobiology

While Dr. Dearden served as Acting Chair, the Department of Anatomy, with the full support of College of Medicine and the campus, undertook an international search for a new Chairperson in 1983. That search was quite successful and in 1984 recruited Edward G. Jones (MD, University of Otago; PhD, Oxford University) from Washington University. “Ted” Jones was widely regarded as one of the leading neuroanatomists among the global neuroscience community, and his recruitment was viewed quite favorably by the campus and the College of Medicine.

Among Dr. Jones’ goals for the department was to support the already strong research in systems neurobiology by encouraging growth in the emerging field of molecular neurobiology. That effort was reflected in Dr. Jones’ recruitment of Stewart H.C. Hendry, PhD (plasticity of visual cortex), Martin A. Smith, PhD (plasticity of peripheral cholinergic systems), Anne L. Calof , PhD (genetic regulation of neural development), and Ivan Soltesz, PhD (hippocampal plasticity and epilepsy). Dr Hendry later left UCI to take a faculty position at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Dr. Jones added to the expertise of the department by joint appointments of W. Ian Lipkin, MD, (neuroimmunology), John H. Weiss, MD, PhD (mechanisms of neural degeneration), and Frances M. Leslie , PhD (neuropharmacology).

The academic field of Anatomy, while respected, is not among the fields widely seen as on the leading edge of scientific advancement. Dr. Jones set about to modernize the department’s name to Anatomy & Neurobiology, to more accurately reflect the scientific expertise of the departmental faculty. At a campus widely known for its neuroscience expertise, and with the use of the term “neurobiology” in other venues, this proposed change in department name met with considerable resistance from other research groups on campus. However, with Dr. Jones’ typical perseverance, the change was eventually approved by campus administration and continues today.

Dr. Jones was a strong supporter of graduate education and, along with Vice Chair and Graduate Advisor Dr. Robertson, in 1986 established the tradition of “Grad Day” in which all graduate students have the opportunity to present their research topics to the larger department.

Dr. Jones stepped down from the position as Chair in 1993 and then relocated to lead the neuroscience program at UC Davis in 1998.

Primary appointee:

Edward G. Jones, MD (U. Otago, New Zealand)
PhD Oxford University (England)
Neural plasticity and molecular neurobiology
Relocated to UC Davis Director of Neuroscience, 1998

Anne L. Calof , PhD, UCSF
PostDoc, Columbia University
Genetic regulation of neural development.

Stewart H.C. Hendry, PhD, Washington University
Plasticity of visual system
Relocated to Johns Hopkins Medical School, 1996

Martin A. Smith, PhD, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (England)
PostDocs at UC San Diego and Stanford University
Molecular neurobiology
Retired 2013

Ivan Soltesz, PhD, Eotvos University (Hungary)
PostDoc Stanford University
Hippocampal plasticity and epilepsy
Relocated to Stanford University in 2015

Joints appointees

W. Ian Lipkin, MD, Rush Medical College
Residency UCSF

Diane K. O’Dowd, PhD, UC San Diego
PostDoc, Stanford University
Neuronal Plasticity in Drosophila
Improvement of Science education
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, UCI

John H. Weiss, MD, PhD, Stanford University
Mechanisms of neural degeneration, Alzheimer’s, ALS

Frances Leslie, PhD, U. Aberdeen (Scotland)
PostDoc, Stanford University
Currently Vice Provost for Graduate Education



Richard Robertson, Chair, 1993-2003
Establishment of Reeve-Irvine Center for Spinal Cord Injury Research

Richard Robertson, who had served for several years as Vice Chair of the department, was appointed as Chair in 1993 to replace Dr. Jones.

The mid to late 1990’s was a time of budget cuts and restricted faculty growth. Dr. Robertson sought cooperative opportunities and joined in the recruitment of Oswald Steward, PhD to head the newly established Reeve-Irvine Center for Spinal Cord Injury Research. Dr. Steward was recruited from the University of Virginia, where he served as Chair of the Department of Neuroscience. Dr. Steward was widely recognized for his work in regulation of gene expression in the nervous system and on plasticity of hippocampal systems. His expertise in these two fields were seen as ideal for leading the effort to understand the pathology of spinal cord injury and the development of therapeutic measures. After his appointment as Center Director, Drs. Steward and Robertson collaborated on the recruitment of Hans Keirstead PhD (regeneration of axons following spinal cord injury) and Aileen Anderson PhD (role of immune system and glial cells in response to injury) to join the Reeve-Irvine Center and the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology.

Also at this time, Ji-ying Sze, PhD (who studied C. elegans as a model system for neuroplasticity) was recruited from Harvard Medical School. Dr. Sze later left UCI to take a position at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.
In an effort to relieve some of the teaching load for the very demanding Human Gross Anatomy course, Dr. Robertson obtained funding from the SoM Dean’s office to recruit Dr. Robert Leonard to direct the Gross Anatomy course and devote his full efforts to the teaching mission.

Dr. Robertson added to the breadth of faculty expertise by the joint appointments of Mark Fisher, MD, (Professor and Chair of Neurology, and expert in cerebral vascular biology), Fan-Gang Zeng, PhD (Professor of Otolaryngology, studying cochlear implants), Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PhD (Professor of Pediatrics and of Neurology, studying the role of early stress on seizure activity), Steven Schreiber, MD, (Neurology; neurodegenerative diseases), and David Felten, MD, PhD (Director of the Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine; neuroimmunology). Dr. Felten soon left UCI to take an administrative position at Seton Hall University.


Primary appointee:

David Felten MD,
PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Neuroimmunology; Director Susan Samueli Center
Relocated to Seton Hall University 2002

Hans Keirstead PhD, U. British Columbia
PostDoc Cambridge University, England.
Spinal cord injury repair, stem cell biology
Relocated to private biotech 2003

Robert Leonard, PhD, University of Minnesota
Human gross anatomy teaching
Retired 2005

Oswald Steward, PhD,  UC Irvine
Plasticity of gene expression, spinal cord injury repair
Director, Reeve-Irvine Research Center

Ji-Ying Sze, PhD, Purdue University
Postdoc Harvard Medical School
C. elegans neurobiology
Relocated to Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 2005

Joints appointees

Aileen Anderson, PhD,  UC Irvine
PostDoc, Harvard University
Neuroimmunology, stem cell biology
Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Currently Director of UCI Stem Cell Center

Tallie Z. Baram, MD, University of Miami
PhD, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
Shepard Chair in Neurosciences
Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology
Stress and neural development

Mark Fisher, MD, University of Cincinnati
Professor of Neurology
Endothelial cell biology, stroke

Ranjan Gupta, MD, Albany Medical College
Residency, University of Pennsylvania
Peripheral nerve injury and repair

Steven Schreiber, MD, Albany Medical College
Professor of Neurology
Mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease

Fan-Gang Zeng, Ph.D, Syracuse University
Professor of Otolaryngology
Sensory coding in normal and impaired auditory systems

Department Faculty, 1995
Front row, from left: Earle Davis, Tallie Baram, Roland Giolli, Lenard Kitzes
Second row, from left: Anne Calof, Chris Gall, Rick Robertson, Chuck Ribak
Back row, from left: Ivan Soltesz, Martin Smith, Ted Jones, Jim Fallon, John Weiss, Ian Lipkin, Diane O’Dowd, Bob Blanks

Leonard Kitzes, Acting Chair 2004-2006

Dr. Robertson stepped down from the position as Chair in 2003 to return to his research laboratory; the Dean’s office appointed Dr. Leonard Kitzes as Acting Chair in 2004. Dr. Kitzes was successful in recruiting David Lyon, PhD (visual system plasticity) from the Salk Institute to become Assistant Professor at UCI.

Primary appointee:

David Lyon, PhD, Vanderbilt University
Post Doc, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Salk Institue
Structure and function of visual system



Ivan Soltesz,  Chair 2007-2015

photo : Steve Zylius/UC Irvine Communications

A national search for a new department Chair was undertaken, and culminated in the appointment of Dr. Ivan Soltesz as Chair in 2007. Dr. Soltesz had established himself as an international leader in the field of hippocampal neurobiology of normal brain and how alterations in physiology and circuitry lead to production of seizures in the epileptic brain.

As part of the package provided to Dr. Soltesz for taking on the duties of department Chair, he was given the opportunity to recruit several new faculty members. The first of these was Xiangmin Xu, PhD (cortical plasticity) recruited from a postdoctoral position at the Salk Institute to become Assistant Professor. Later, Dr. Soltesz recruited Robert Hunt, PhD, (disorders of cortical development) from his postdoctoral position at UC San. Francisco, and Kei Igarashi, PhD (sensory neural mechanism in learning and memory) from his postdoctoral position with the Nobel Prize winning Mosers from Norway.

In addition, Dr. Soltesz was able to facilitate some local transfers of faculty into the department, including Danielle Piomelli, PhD (nationally recognized leader in cannabinoid research) and David Reinkensmeyer, PhD (use of robotics to facilitate recovery from stroke in humans). As part of the recruitment of a new Chair for the Department of Neurology, Dr. Soltesz welcomed Ana Solodkin, PhD (human brain fMRI imaging and plasticity) to the department.
Also, Dr. Soltesz made several joint appointments to the department, including Gary Lynch, PhD (Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, cellular mechanisms of neural plasticity), Fred Ehlert, PhD (Pharmacology of muscarinic receptors), Brian Cummings, PhD (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mechanisms of spinal cord injury recovery) and Lisa Flanagan, PhD (Neurology, bioengineering of stem cells and the role of extracellular matrix molecules on axonal growth after injury).

Dr. Soltesz stepped down from his position as Chair in 2015, when he was recruited to a named Professorship in Neurosurgery at Stanford University.

Primary appointees

Xiangmin Xu, PhD, Vanderbilt University
Postdoc, The Salk Institute
Neural circuitry in learning and memory disorders, mechanisms of epilepsy

Danielle Piomelli, PhD, Columbia University
PostDoc, Rockefeller University
Functions of endocannabinoid system

David Reinkensmeyer, PhD, UC Berkeley
Robotics and recovery from neurological injury

Jaimie Wikenheiser, PhD, Case Western Reserve University
Director of Gross Anatomy curriculum

Robert Hunt, PhD, University of Kentucky
Post Doc, UC San Francisco
Disorders of cortical development, mechanisms of epilepsy

Kei Igarashi, PhD, University of Tokyo
Post doc, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Sensory systems and mechanisms of memory


Joint appointees

Alan Goldin, MD, PhD, University of Michigan
Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics
Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, UCI SoM
Ion channels in epilepsy and other disorders

Brian Cummings, PhD, UC Irvine
Mechanisms of spinal cord injury recovery; stem cell biology
Professor and Vice Chair for research, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Gary Lynch, PhD, Princeton University
Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry
Disorders of learning and memory

Lisa Flanagan, PhD, University of California, San Diego
Associate Professor of Neurology
Neural stem cells, Bioengineering


Christine Gall, Chair 2015- present

(c) LA Times

The Dean’s office launched a national search to identify the next department chair, which resulted in the naming of Christine Gall as Chair of Anatomy & Neurobiology. With her extensive experience with the department and her meteoric rise through the academic ranks, Dr. Gall quickly commenced the search for new faculty and was successful in recruiting Lulu Chen PhD (molecular mechanisms of neural plasticity) from Stanford University. Further recruitments continue at this writing.

Primary appointee:

Lulu Chen, PhD, UC Irvine
PostDoc Stanford University
Synapse development and maintenance in neurological disease

Joint appointee:

Andre Obenaus, PhD, University of British Columbia
Cerebral vasculature in traumatic brain injury

Magdalene Seiler, PhD, Max Planck-Institute for Psychiatry, Munich
Retinal degeneration, stem cells, transplantation, trophic factors



Written and Copyright, Richard Robertson, Ph.D.