Mircea Steriade, MD, DSc, a professor of neuroscience at Laval University in Quebec and a member of the Society for Neuroscience, died on Friday, April 14. He was 81.
His lifelong dedication to neuroscience spanned more than half a century, challenging the conventional thought of the past and unlocking multiple mysteries about the human brain with his groundbreaking research which included major discoveries in the understanding sleep and epilepsy.
"He was one of the foremost physiologists of this age, a master experimenter, and a great thinker," said Edward G. Jones, MD, DPhil, of the University of California at Davis. "He reactivated a field that had long lain dormant and made it into one of the most active in modern neuroscience."
As a young scientist in Romania, Steriade was once told to "be more patient" by a mentor in his laboratory. "I respectfully disobeyed then as well as now," Steriade wrote in a later autobiography. "I used to look through the microscope all day long, at the expense of some medical disciplines that I regarded as marginal and for which I remained a layman. I already knew that all my life would be spent with the brain and its operations."
Steriade was born on Aug. 20, 1924, in Bucharest, Romania. He earned an MD from the Faculty of Medicine in Bucharest in 1952 and a DSc in neurology at the Romanian Academy of Sciences in 1955. After a fellowship at the Universite de Bruxelles, Steriade returned to the Romanian Academy of Sciences in 1958 to become the head of the Institute of Neurology's Neurophysiology Laboratory. In 1968, Steriade accepted a neuroscience professorship at Laval University in Quebec, a post he held until his death.
He was best known for his pioneering research that identified the network operations and neuronal properties in corticothalamic systems, which are implicated in the generation of normal brain rhythms during different states of vigilance and different types of electrical seizures. He was the first to demonstrate the role of GABAergic thalamic reticular neurons in the production of sleep spindles. Using intracellular recordings in animals and field potential recordings during human sleep, he also discovered a new type of sleep rhythm, the slow oscillation, which is generated intracortically.
Steriade authored or co-authored more than 400 original articles, review chapters and books. His seven books, including The Intact and Sliced Brain and Brain Cholinergic Systems, co-authored with Dietmar Biesold, are considered to be the leading publications in his area of expertise. A reviewer at the journal Neuroscience called his 2003 book Neuronal Substrates of Sleep and Epilepsy "a remarkable tour de force from a master of integrative neurophysiology."
His awards include the 1965 Medaille Claude Bernard from de l'Universite de Paris, the 1989 Sleep Research Society Distinguished Scientist Award, the Scientific Prize of Quebec in 1991, and American Society for Clinical Neurophysiology Pierre Gloor Award in 1998. Steriade held the Editor-in-Chief position at the journal Thalamus and Related Systems. He was an editorial board member at the journalsNeuroscience, Archives Italiennes de Biologie, Journal of Sleep Research, and Sleep Search Online. He presented a Presidential Special Lecture at SfN's 1999 annual meeting.
Read Mircea Steriade's chapter in The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography Volume 4.