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Werner M. Graf, MD, PhD, Professor of Physiology

Werner Michael Graf, MD, PhD (He His)


  • Physiology & Biophysics
  • College of Medicine


Werner M. Graf received an M.D. degree in 1975 and a Ph.D. (Dr. med.) degree in 1977 from the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg i.Br./Germany, specializing in neurophysiology at the neurology hospital (Prof. Richard Jung). He is a licensed physician. For his thesis project, he demonstrated for the first time multisensory integration (visual and vestibular) at the single cell level in vestibular nucleus neurons. This seminal discovery triggered a multitude of follow-up studies in many laboratories world-wide. Subsequently, he spent three years at the Georg-August University in Göttingen as a Research Assistant Professor, studying visual postural control mechanisms, neuroethology and comparative anatomy/physiology, and teaching neuroanatomy to medical students. In 1979, he joined the Department of Physiology & Biophysics headed by Dr. Rodolfo Llinás at New York University Medical Center in New York as a postdoctoral student to work on the structure and function of three-dimensional sensory-motor transformation of eye and head movements. He continued this work as a faculty member of The Rockefeller University in New York where he was an Assistant and later an Associate Professor. During this time, he also kept a laboratory at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to investigate comparative and evolutionary aspects of the vestibulo-oculomotor system, and to develop the unique paradigm of the flatfish, a model of genetic and environmental learning and adaptation.

In 1992, he took up a position as Research Director at the CNRS/Collège de France in Paris to set up a non-human primate laboratory. His group there discovered vestibular input to the dorsal visual stream of the parietal cortex, a sensory quality which recently has been discovered to alleviate the syndrome of spatial hemineglect. In collaboration with another CNRS laboratory, he is also using transneuronal pathway tracing with rabies virus, a powerful and exclusive neuroanatomical tool. During a three year period, he spent time as a visiting scientist at Tokyo Medical University in Tokyo, Japan.

Dr. Graf has served as Chairman of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at Howard University from 2005 to 2014 to establish, reorganize and rejuvenate medical and graduate student education and establish a Cognitive Neuroscience group and a Graduate Program in Neuroscience. He has also developed plans for a Center of Excellence in Neuroscience at Howard University, as well as for an integrated translational Vestibular Testing and Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Graf also led the Howard University Medical School’s effort to establish an Integrated Biomedical Graduate Program and initiated a Nobel Laureates’ lecture series.

Dr. Graf led several grant projects to support and educate undergraduate and graduate students in biomedical research to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in this field. Dr. Graf has held a number of prestigious grant awards, including two R01s. He served as PI and co-PI, respectively, of two large European research consortia (“Eurokinesis” and “Transvirus”) and led the Human Frontier consortium “Neural Basis of Movement Perception,” which included U.S., European and Japanese Laboratories. Most recently, he was PI/PD of Howard University’s U54 Specialized Neuroscience Research Program, a multi-million-dollar effort to bring mainstream neuroscience funding to Howard University as a minority-serving institution.

Dr. Graf has graduated four master’s students and twelve doctoral students in Germany, France, and the U.S. He has also mentored eleven undergraduate students, seven medical students, and twelve post-doctoral students in biomedical research in the U.S. and abroad, as well as serving on nine thesis committees. He served as co-PI of an NSF-PIRE and an NSF-IGERT grant, and in this role has organized or co-organized four international workshops/conferences for student education and laboratory exposure during the past years.

Over the past 40 years, Dr. Graf has been teaching neuroscience, anatomy and physiology, in particular auditory-vestibular physiology to health science, veterinary and graduate students at New York University, Cornell University, Rockefeller University, the Universities Paris VI and Lyon, Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and lately Howard University. He has designed and created teaching and laboratory courses in physiology/pathophysiology. He was a committee member to redesign learning objectives for the medical student teaching curriculum of the American Physiological Society.

Dr. Graf’s research focuses on the neuronal basis of self-motion perception and spatial orientation using trained non-human primates as models for human behavior and pathophysiology, especially with respect to normal aging and the associated challenges of every-day life, i.e., vehicle driving and the prevention of falls in the elderly. He also led and participated in projects involving adaptation to life in microgravity and to prevent spatial disorientation in fixed wing/helicopter pilots in cooperation with NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the US Navy. His interest in spatial orientation and disorientation also has a practical background: he is an instrument-rated private pilot. As a necessary consequence, his research on spatial orientation and disorientation let to experiments during parabolic flights on the on the Novespace/CNES Zero-G A-300 airbus. He also maintained collegial contacts with NASA astronauts (Larry Young, Jeff Hoffman) and the German astronaut Ulf Merbold. One of the students he supervised at the MBL was Dan Barry, who was a mission specialist on three space shuttle launches.

Dr. Graf has over 100 publications to his credit. His work has also been featured in the popular literature, especially that related to microgravity and space exploration.

Dr. Graf has served as external and internal reviewer, and advisor for a number of national and international funding agencies. Among them are NIH, NSF, the Human Frontier Science Program, the European Commission Research Directorate, the CNRS, the Swiss National Fund, the German Research Foundation, the Dutch National Fund, the British Research Council, etc. He is a reviewer for numerous scientific journals such as Science, Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurophysiology, etc. He is journal editor for “Movement Science and Sports Psychology” and “Brain Sciences”.

He was a Grass Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in 1981 and received the Lacassagne Prize of the Collège de France in 2002. He was awarded the Research Award (senior scientists) at the 2012 Howard University Health Sciences Research Day.

At Howard University, he was the Chair of the Dean’s Committee on Faculty Awards. He served on the Research Advisory Committee, Office of the Senior Vice-President for Health Sciences, the Research Advisory Committee, Office of Provost, and as Chairman of the Howard University Senate Committee on Appointments, Promotions and Tenure (APT Committee). He is a Founding Member of the HU/JHU-Program in Medical Physics. He was President of the Howard University Chapter of Sigma Xi.

Dr. Graf is fluent in English, German and French, and has adequate communication skills in several other languages.

Dr. Graf has two children. His son is an MBA and financial analyst in New York City. His daughter is a graduate of Howard University’s College of Medicine and a board-certified trauma and robotic surgeon in California.

Education & Expertise



Freiburg University

PhD (Dr. med)

Freiburg University