2012 Kavli Prize for Neuroscience goes to three HFSP alumni

Alumni news: Cornelia Bargmann, Winfried Denk and Anne Graybiel, all HFSP alumni, are awarded the 2012 Kavli Prize for Neuroscience.

From the Kavli Foundation announcement:

"Three scientists, who have studied how sensory signals pass from points of sensation such as the eye, foot or nose to the brain, and how responses occur, share the neuroscience prize.

Cornelia Bargmann, of the Rockefeller University in New York, used nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) to provide insights into the molecular controls for animal behaviour. Important advances have included the discovery of the first evidence that the odour response is governed by neurons, of the intracellular signalling pathways between odorant receptors and sensory neurons, and of specific neurons, receptors and neurotransmitters involved in behaviour adaption following experience.

Two techniques developed by Winfried Denk, of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany, have allowed him to answer major questions about how information is transmitted from the eye to the brain. In 1990 he announced his invention of two-photon laser scanning fluorescence microscopy, which allows imaging of living tissue at greater depths and with less unwanted background fluorescence. He went on to develop serial block-face electron microscopy, whereby detailed 3D imagery of minute structures within tissue are generated by the repeated removal of thin slices and scanning of the remaining cut surface of samples.

Ann M. Graybiel, of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, at MIT, has identified and traced neural loops going from the outer layer of the brain to a region called the striatum and back again, and revealed that these form the basis for linking sensory cues to actions involved in habitual behaviours. She has provided a deeper understanding of the ability to make or break habits, and of what goes wrong in movement and repetitive behaviour disorders."

Cornelia Bargmann has received support from HFSP in three collaborative international research grants in the field for which she has been honoured with the Kavli Prize: In 1992 she was co-investigator on a grant on "Learning and memory in the nematode, C. Elegans: behavioral, cellular and molecular analysis" with Derek van der Kooy, Joseph G. Culotti and Catherine Rankin (all from Canada) and Ikue Mori (Japan). In 1997, she was joined by Ronald Plasterk (Netherlands) and Ikue Mori (Japan) in a project on "Perception of odors, tastes and temperature: attraction and aversion of C.elegans". In 2001 she collaborated with William Schafer (USA), Paulo Bazzicalupo (Italy) and Ikue Mori (Japan) on the "Functional analysis of sensory circuits in C. elegans". 

Winfried Denk  was supported in an international HFSP research grant in 2004 with Peter Detwiler (USA), Aaron Lewis (Israel) and Moredechai Sheves (Israel) on "Functional Imaging of Neural Networks with Non-linear Optics". He also served on the HFSP Research Grant committee from 2006-2007.

Anne Graybiel was one of the first scientists to receive an HFSP research grant in 1990 in a collaboration with Yasuo Kawaguchi, Hisamasa Imai and Minoru Kimura (all from Japan), Brent Cochran (USA) and Harold Robinson (Canada) on "The biology of information processing in the striatum". She served on the HFSP Research Grant committee from 1993-1994.

The Kavli Prizes have been awarded three times, in 2008, 2010 and 2012, in the fields of astrophysics, nanotechnology and neuroscience. Of the 9 awards made so far for neuroscience, seven have been to HFSP alumni (Thomas Jessell and Pasko Rakic in 2008, Thomas Sudhof and James E. Rothman in 2010).