Alexandra Nelson, MD, PhD

Associate Professor

Dr. Alexandra Nelson is a neurologist who cares for patients with disorders that affect both movement and cognition, such as Huntington's disease, spinocerebellar ataxia and atypical parkinsonism. She also works closely with her patients' families. She is a member of the clinical and research team at UCSF's Memory and Aging Center and Huntington's Disease Clinic, designated a center of excellence by the Huntington's Disease Society of America.

As both a neuroscientist and a behavioral neurologist, Nelson is particularly interested in understanding neurodegenerative movement disorders, conditions in which progressive nerve-cell degeneration can diminish mental as well as physical function. Her laboratory team studies the cells and circuits involved in movement disorders. Her research seeks to distinguish brain regions, cells and patterns of brain activity that promote normal movement from those that produce abnormal movement, allowing development of more focused treatments.

Nelson earned her medical degree and a doctorate in neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, where she studied cerebellar motor learning. She then completed a residency in neurology at UCSF and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Gladstone Institutes, where she investigated specific neurological circuits involved in Parkinson's disease and dystonia, or abnormal muscle tone.

Nelson joined the UCSF faculty in 2014. She is the Richard and Shirley Cahill Endowed Chair in Parkinson's Disease Research. She belongs to the Society for Neuroscience, American Neurological Association, International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society and Huntington Study Group.


Altered Iron and Microstructure in Huntington's Disease Subcortical Nuclei: Insight From 7T MRI.

Journal of magnetic resonance imaging : JMRI

Yao J, Morrison MA, Jakary A, Avadiappan S, Rowley P, Glueck J, Driscoll T, Geschwind MD, Nelson AB, Possin KL, Xu D, Hess CP, Lupo JM

The Cerebellar Cognitive Affective/Schmahmann Syndrome Scale in Spinocerebellar Ataxias.

Cerebellum (London, England)

Selvadurai LP, Perlman SL, Ashizawa T, Wilmot GR, Onyike CU, Rosenthal LS, Shakkottai VG, Paulson HL, Subramony SH, Bushara KO, Kuo SH, Dietiker C, Geschwind MD, Nelson AB, Gomez CM, Opal P, Zesiewicz TA, Hawkins T, Yacoubian TA, Nopoulos PC, Sha SJ, Morrison PE, Figueroa KP, Pulst SM, Schmahmann JD

Adaptor protein-3 produces synaptic vesicles that release phasic dopamine.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Jain S, Yee AG, Maas J, Gierok S, Xu H, Stansil J, Eriksen J, Nelson AB, Silm K, Ford CP, Edwards RH

Comparison of Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping Methods for Iron-Sensitive Susceptibility Imaging at 7T: An Evaluation in Healthy Subjects and Patients with Huntington's Disease.


Yao J, Morrison MA, Jakary A, Avadiappan S, Chen Y, Luitjens J, Glueck J, Driscoll T, Geschwind M, Nelson A, Villanueva-Meyer J, Hess CP, Lupo JM

The S-Factor, a New Measure of Disease Severity in Spinocerebellar Ataxia: Findings and Implications.

Cerebellum (London, England)

Selvadurai LP, Perlman SL, Wilmot GR, Subramony SH, Gomez CM, Ashizawa T, Paulson HL, Onyike CU, Rosenthal LS, Sair HI, Kuo SH, Ratai EM, Zesiewicz TA, Bushara KO, ?z G, Dietiker C, Geschwind MD, Nelson AB, Opal P, Yacoubian TA, Nopoulos PC, Shakkottai VG, Figueroa KP, Pulst SM, Morrison PE, Schmahmann JD

Therapeutic deep brain stimulation disrupts movement-related subthalamic nucleus activity in Parkinsonian mice.


Schor JS, Gonzalez Montalvo I, Spratt PWE, Brakaj RJ, Stansil JA, Twedell EL, Bender KJ, Nelson AB

Striatal indirect pathway dysfunction underlies motor deficits in a mouse model of paroxysmal dyskinesia.

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

Nelson AB, Girasole AE, Lee HY, Ptácek LJ, Kreitzer AC

NMDARs in granule cells contribute to parallel fiber-Purkinje cell synaptic plasticity and motor learning.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Schonewille M, Girasole AE, Rostaing P, Mailhes-Hamon C, Ayon A, Nelson AB, Triller A, Casado M, De Zeeuw CI, Bouvier G

Frontostriatal Projections Regulate Innate Avoidance Behavior.

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

Loewke AC, Minerva AR, Nelson AB, Kreitzer AC, Gunaydin LA

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