The founder and the first head of the Laboratory (at that time, Department of Conditional Reflexes) from 1925 to 1936 was Ivan P. Pavlov. During this time the Laboratory studied problems of the conditional reflex theory, internal (conditional) inhibition, and experimental neuroses.
Since 1936, the Laboratory was headed by Academician L. A. Orbeli. Apart from continuation of investigations begun by I. P. Pavlov, the Laboratory started developing problems of role of telencephalon in the higher nervous activity, effects of extirpation of sympathetic ganglia on conditional reflex activity, effects of the potassium and calcium ions on realization of conditional reflexes.
From 1946 to 1950, under the guidance of Prof. V. V. Stroganov, investigations began on autonomous components of the conditional reflex, on the role of subcortical structures in mechanisms of the higher nervous activity, on the children higher nervous activity.
In 1950–1964, the Laboratory was headed by Prof. F. P. Mayorov. The main direction of studies at this period became the problem of the cortical conditional inhibition, its limits and localization, mechanisms of formation of dynamic stereotype as well as of types of the higher nervous activity and neuroses. There were studied mechanisms of sleep and subconscious phenomena of the higher nervous activity. For the clinical use, method of actography allowing measurement of the deepness of sleep in patients with neuroses was proposed. Application of medicament sleep was substantiated. The clinically useful method of evaluation of disturbances of elaborated skill was developed. There was established dependence of effects of brome and caffeine on the type of the nervous system.
From 1965 to 1987, the head of the Laboratory was the Honored Scientist of the Russian Federation, Prof. N. F. Suvorov. Under his guidance the Laboratory paid a particular attention to elucidation of the role of basal ganglia, intralaminar thalamic nuclei, amygdale, and frontal neocortex in formation and realization of different behavior forms. There were revealed general and specific regularities of influences of individual neo- and paleostriatal nuclei on conditional reflex activity; their structural and functional heterogeneity was established. Neurochemical studies revealed the direct correlation, on one hand, between the dopamine content in the nigrostriatal system and its synthesis intensity and, on the other hand, the rate of learning and complexity of exposed tasks. A large use of neuromorphological procedures has allowed characterizing the spatial organization of afferent connections with cerebral cortex, thalamus, and amygdala. There was formulated the concept the strio-thalamo-cortical system of regulation of behavior; in this system, two telencephalic subsystems were identified?–?the dorsal and ventral which have different functional significance.
The staff of the clinical base studied at this period the neurophysiological ground of emotional states. It was established that the « sign » of emotion is determined predominantly by the functional state of structures of the diencephalic and mesencephalic levels of activation.
It was shown the pathological thrive to alcohol to be based on the ability of ethanol to inhibit irritation of midbrain reticular formations and to activate structures of the diencephalic-limbic levels which are included in the system of positive reinforcement.
Since 1987, the Laboratory is headed by Dr. V. T. Shuvaev. The investigations traditional for the Laboratory have been added by studies on organization of cortical-subcortical interrelations during formation of behavior, role of interaction of hormones and transmitters in realization of the higher brain functions, processes of human selective attention, physiology of phobias, modeling of processes of the higher nervous activity processes. In observations on people, the twin method is widely used. For the first time in Russia, a procedure of microdialysis is used, with a subsequent, highly efficient fluid chromatography.
Investigations on the higher nervous activity of anthropoids started as long ago as in 1933 at the base of Koltushi Biological Station under I. P. Pavlov's direct guidance. From 1950 to 1963, various models of memory were compared in the continuing studies. Scientific movies were created. Since 1963, studies on monkeys were concentrated in the Group of monkey higher nervous activity headed by Prof. L. A. Firsov, included in the Laboratory of physiology of the higher nervous activity. The attention of the Group was focused on studying traced and delayed reflexes, a comparative investigation the present and traced conditional reflexes, mathematical modeling of the anthropoids' complex behavior; the Group began systematic study of the generalization function.
At present, investigations of the Group under the guidance of Biological Sciences Doctor T. G. Kuznetsova deal with analytical-synthetic activity of primates in the process of their adaptation of to problem situations of the individual and group behavior, neurophysiological mechanisms of the reflex of goal, memory, vocal behavior, motivation, effect of the emotional state on solution of tasks by the higher primates. A most important aspect of work of the Group becomes a comparative study of the higher nervous activity in the lower and higher monkeys and the human child and adult.
In 2000, included into the Laboratory of the higher nervous activity were researchers of Laboratory of neuroses. The main direction of the newly-formed group was study, using the twin method, of effects of genetical and paratypical factors on individual variability of the spatial organization of brain potentials with subsequent analysis of their connection with psychophysiological, formally dynamic human characteristics. Of a great applied significance is study of effect of mechanism of « transfer » on elimination of phobic syndrome by the training method developed at the Laboratory, with the feedback of the skin-galvanic reaction.
Another direction of investigations is a comparative clinical-experimental study of neurotic and psychosomatic (cortical-visceral) disturbances and study of mechanisms of selectivity of lesion of visceral systems during neurotizing effect, using the method of comparison of background and dynamical characteristics of the different systems in two groups of patients - with neurasthenia and « borderline » hypertension. The applied significance of these works consists in detection at early stages of the psychosomatic disease of reliable criteria allowing differentiation of this disease from the generalized neurotic disintegration and disorganization of organism visceral systems.