Those who courageously serve in our nation's military deserve exceptional care. The Veterans Medical Research Foundation's mission is to enhance the health of veterans of all generations through research and education.



(858) 642-3080


3350 La Jolla Village Drive (151A)

Building 13

San Diego, CA 92161

Brian P. Head


  • PhD.

  • MS

Current Position(s): 

  • Research Health Scientist, VASDHS

  • Associate Professor in Anesthesia, UCSD

Personal Statement: 

I am a Research Health Scientist at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and hold a dual appointment as an Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at UCSD. The goal of my research is to use genetic interventions (via viral vector gene therapy) to evoke neuroplasticity and synaptic plasticity in the setting of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain and spinal cord injury.  My research involves delivery of a viral vector (AAV) that contains a neuron-targeted promoter (synapsin) to drive the expression of caveolin-1 (Cav-1) specifically in neurons after injury or during neurodegenerative conditions.  Cav-1 is a membrane protein that is essential for membrane/lipid raft (MLR) formation and localization of neurotrophin receptors to MLR in most cell membranes.  We have previously published that neuron-targeted Cav-1 (termed SynCav1) increases MLR formation and promotes neuroplasticity in primary neurons in vitro and in hippocampal neurons in vivo, improves hippocampal-dependent learning and memory in aged mice (published in the Biological Psychiatry, refs #38 on the CV). SynCav1 also increases markers of synaptic plasticity (e.g., syntaxin, synaptobrevin, synaptophysin, neurexin) in vivo and in human neurons derived from iPSCs in vitro (published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, refs #42 on the CV).  We have also demonstrated that our SynCav1 transgenic mouse (SynCav1 Tg) exhibits preserved hippocampal-dependent learning and memory and improved motor function recovery months after brain trauma (published in the FASEB J, ref #45 on the CV).  With this novel genetic intervention, our goal is to enhance pro-survival signaling that promotes dendritic growth, axonal sprouting, and re-organization of neuronal circuitry in the traumatically injured, ischemic, and neurodegenerative brain.  In addition, we are currently testing the therapeutic efficacy in rodent models Alzheimer’s disease (AD) (funded by a VA Merit award) and ALS (the latter is unfunded).  I continue to research the underlying mechanisms of anesthetic-mediated neurotoxicity in the developing neurons.  Outside of my research commitment, I serve as a member on the VA IACUC and R & D committees.  I actively mentor visiting international scholars who are involved in research in the laboratory here at the VA and with our affiliate university UCSD.  Because of the high productivity and novel research with major translational implications as well as my mentoring of residents, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates, I was bestowed the prestigious PECASE honor (Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers 2012) by the Department of Veterans Affairs and President Barack H. Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C. in April 2014.  Not only is this award the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers, but I was the sole Veterans Affairs Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development (BLR&D) researcher in the entire country to receive the award and the first from the Department of Anesthesia at the VASDHS and UCSD.


  • PhD in Molecular Pathology, UCSD, 2005

  • MS in Marine Science, USD, 2001

  • BA in American Government (minor in Theology), Georgetown University, 1994

Awards and Honors:

  • 2012 PECASE Honor (Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers)

  • American Physiological Society – Central Nervous System New Investigator Award (2011)

  • The 23rd International Symposium on Cerebral Blood Flow, Metabolism, and Function (Brain 2007, Osaka Japan) – Young Bursary Winner

Professional History:

  • Laboratory Technician, VA Medical Center, La Jolla, California, 1998-2000

  • Dissertation research, Molecular Pathology Graduate Program and Department of Pharmacology, UCSD, 2000-2005

  • Postdoctoral research, Department of Anesthesiology, UCSD, 2005-2009

  • Adjunct faculty member. Biology Department, University of San Diego, 2006

  • Assistant Research Scientist, without salary appointment, UCSD, 2009-2012

  • Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, UCSD, 2012-2015

  • Research Scientist, VMRF, 2009-Present

  • Research Health Scientist, VASDHS, 2009-Present

  • Associate Adjunct Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, UCSD, 2015-Present

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