Society for Neuroscience 2023 Outstanding Career and Research Achievements
WASHINGTON – The Society of Neuroscience (SfN) will honor leading researchers whose pioneering work has transformed neuroscience — including the understanding of the visual system, addiction, synaptic plasticity, and learning and memory — with this year’s Outstanding Career and Research Achievement Awards. The awards will be presented during Neuroscience 2023, SfN’s annual meeting.
“The Society is honored to recognize this year’s awardees, whose groundbreaking work has transformed our understanding of plasticity in the mammalian brain — from the synaptic level to the systems level — as well as uncovered neuronal mechanisms behind addiction, compulsion, and depression,” SfN President Oswald Steward said. “These neuroscientists’ innovative approaches and paradigm-shifting findings have overturned previous doctrine, revolutionized our understanding of the field, and provided hope for novel therapeutic approaches.”
Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience: Michael Stryker
The Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience — the highest honor bestowed by SfN — recognizes an outstanding scientist who has made significant contributions to neuroscience throughout their career. The prize is named for the revered neuroscientist Dr. Ralph W. Gerard who helped establish the Society for Neuroscience and served as its honorary president. The award includes a $30,000 prize and travel to SfN’s annual meeting.
Michael Stryker, a neuroscientist and the former chair of Physiology at the University of California San Francisco, profoundly transformed the understanding of how the visual system functions, develops, and changes based on sensory experience. His rigorous demonstration that orientation selectivity develops in the visual cortex even with no visual experience was followed by his laboratory’s discoveries that spontaneous retinal activity is critical to normal development of the visual parts of the brain, and that inhibition plays a central role in regulating a critical period of plasticity in early life, a finding that may help explain some neurodevelopmental disorders. His work changed the terms of the nature-nurture debate by showing that common mechanisms underlie both innate and experience-dependent development. He and his colleagues distinguished juvenile plasticity from slower, qualitatively different adult plasticity and demonstrated manipulations that enhance plasticity in the visual cortex and create a second critical period. He also pioneered the use of ferrets and mice as model systems for the study of the mammalian visual system, each of which has initiated new areas of research now conducted by many laboratories. Stryker’s classic studies are in every major neuroscience textbook and are fundamental to the field’s common understanding of how experience influences cortical development and plasticity.
Julius Axelrod Prize: Mark Bear and Raymond Dingledine
The Julius Axelrod Prize honors scientists with distinguished achievements in the broad field of neuropharmacology or a related area and exemplary efforts in mentoring young scientists. The award is endowed by the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation and includes a $30,000 prize and travel to SfN’s annual meeting.
Mark Bear, a professor of neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fundamentally advanced our understanding of experience-dependent plasticity in the mammalian brain. He and his students showed that NMDA receptors trigger long-term depression (LTD) as well as long-term potentiation (LTP) in the cortex, that the properties of LTD and LTP are themselves “metaplastic” and depend on the recent history of cortical activity and that these bidirectional synaptic modifications and metaplasticity are essential for development of the visual cortex. His lab’s demonstration of LTD in the hippocampus was paradigm-shifting, opening the door to numerous studies of the fundamental molecular mechanisms of synaptic modification. Their finding that LTD is impacted in several developmental disorders led to the insight that excess protein synthesis downstream of the glutamate receptor mGlu5 is a core driver of the synaptic, circuit, and behavioral dysfunction seen in Fragile X Syndrome, the most common form of inherited intellectual disability and a leading monogenic cause of autism. This work ushered in a sea change in how this and other developmental brain disorders are viewed medically and has led to numerous clinical trials in both Fragile X and autism. Additionally, Bear is an extraordinary mentor, with 18 of his 35 former postdoctoral researchers and 11 of his former PhD students now in tenure track positions. He is known for his positivity, optimism, and steadfast enthusiasm for science — even in the face of the challenges that research and funding present — and through his mentorship he passes these essential traits on to the next generation of scientists.
Raymond Dingledine, a professor of pharmacology at Emory University, is a pioneer in the pharmacology of glutamate receptors. He demonstrated that glycine, in addition to glutamate, is required for NMDA receptor activation and coined the term “coagonists” to describe the novel relationship between the two neurotransmitters. He also revealed multiple mechanisms by which properties of postsynaptic glutamatergic receptors are regulated, including the determinants of their calcium permeability. Dingledine has frequently adapted and incorporated new techniques and technologies to address key questions. Early in his career he helped develop electrophysiological recordings from thin hippocampal slices, and his lab was the first to express NMDA receptors in frog oocytes for quantitative pharmacology analysis. His recent work is focused on seizure-induced neuroinflammation, which has strong potential for clinical translation. He and his colleagues demonstrated a profound role for EP2 receptor activation by prostaglandin E2 in neuropathologies caused by upregulation of cyclooxygenase-2. He cofounded the Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center as well as two biotechnology companies working to develop treatments for cerebral ischemia and neuroinflammation. In addition to his rigorous scientific work, Dingledine has been fortunate to mentor outstanding students and postdoctoral researchers. He has trained over 60 scientists, most of whom have gone on to highly successful careers in academia, industry, or government. His trainees are inspired by the collaborative atmosphere he fosters and his commitment to applying quantitative, measurable, and objective criteria to describe results and analyze scientific data.
Jacob P. Waletzky Award: Hedy Kober
The Jacob P. Waletzky award recognizes an early career scientist (within fifteen years of their PhD or MD degree) whose independent research has led to significant conceptual and empirical contributions to the understanding of drug addiction and who plans to continue to make significant contributions to addiction research and treatment. The award is endowed by The Waletzky Family and The Waletzky Award Prize Fund and includes a $30,000 prize and travel to SfN’s annual meeting.
Hedy Kober, a cognitive neuroscientist and clinical psychologist at Yale University, has made transformative contributions to the addiction field in her studies on drug craving, treatment, and relapse. Her lab uses state-of-the art cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging approaches to address central questions on emotion regulation in addiction, and the neural mechanisms underlying treatments. She performed a large meta-analysis that resolved a fundamental question in the field by showing that craving predicts drug use and relapse across drug types and measurement types, demonstrating that craving is a useful measure of treatment outcomes. Her research also revealed substantial similarities in the brain’s response to drug cues and non-drug rewards, and in the neural mechanisms used to regulate craving and other emotions. Further, Kober created the first brain-based biomarker of drug craving, using it to classify users of drugs from non-users with high accuracy — truly innovative work with implications for both diagnosis and treatment of addictions. Kober advanced our understanding in how treatments for addictions work by creating a novel task that demonstrated that cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness-based strategies rely on different neural mechanisms. She was the first to identify the promise of modeling treatment components using fMRI to understand their neural mechanisms and is helping create digital platforms to make treatments more widely accessible. Kober’s research holds the promise of leading to additional major advances in how clinical addiction is understood, diagnosed, and treated.
Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience: Misha Tsodyks
The Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience is given to an individual whose activities have produced a significant cumulative contribution to theoretical models or computational methods in neuroscience or who has made a particularly noteworthy recent advance in theoretical or computational neuroscience. The award is endowed by the Swartz Foundation and includes a $30,000 prize and travel to SfN’s annual meeting.
Misha Tsodyks, a professor of neuroscience at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, USA has profoundly impacted the quantitative understanding of learning and memory, from the synapse to the systems levels. His work revealed the importance of sparsity in neural networks, mechanisms of short-term synaptic plasticity, and insights into the storage and retrieval of information from long-term memory. He has propelled the field forward, publishing many ground-breaking papers that overturned the dominant thinking of the time. Multiple models he proposed are now standard in the field. Early in his career, Tsodyks created a model of associative memory using sparse encoding of information and predicted improvements in neural networks by increasing storage capacity and reducing interference effects. Tsodyks then proposed how continuous attractor networks for place cells are critical for the emergence of hippocampal spatial maps. Along with Henry Markram, Tsodyks developed the now leading theoretical model of short-term plasticity, showing that synaptic facilitation could underly working memory. This framework has been widely used in studies of the effects of short-term plasticity on information processing in the brain. More recently, Tsodyks developed a mathematical theory of memory, predicting that the number of items presented and subsequently recalled depends on specific interactions between items. His theory aligns beautifully with the results of a large study of human memory. Throughout his career, Tsodyks has shown an impressive ability to build strikingly simple and elegant models that have significantly shaped the field of computational neuroscience.
Peter Seeburg Integrative Neuroscience Prize: Christian Lüscher and Eric Nestler
The Peter Seeburg Integrative Neuroscience Prize, endowed by the Schaller-Nikolich Foundation, honors original and groundbreaking achievements in neuroscience. Named after Peter H. Seeburg, a German neuroscientist and pioneer in molecular neurobiology, the prize recognizes outstanding advances in the understanding of executive brain functions and cognitive processes. The award includes a $100,000 prize and travel to SfN’s annual meeting.
Christian Lüscher, a neuroscience professor at the University of Geneva, has advanced the knowledge of the circuit mechanisms underlying psychiatric illnesses and drug addiction and established direct links between altered synaptic transmission and addictive behaviors. His work classifying addictive drugs based on the cellular mechanisms by which they increase dopamine is groundbreaking. He was the first to provide proof of principle that reversal of drug-evoked synaptic plasticity can normalize behavior. This work is a key experiment in optogenetic literature and is often referenced by the scientific community. Lüscher also established a compelling circuit model of drug addiction, which he used to create an electric brain stimulation protocol that successfully treated addictive behaviors in mice. This research has great translational potential for treating human disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. Using a novel addiction model based on the optogenetic self-stimulation of dopaminergic neurons, he identified synaptic changes driving the behavior in compulsive individuals. This clever work provides both an answer and a mechanism for a central question in addiction research. Lüscher’s systematic and pioneering approach has uncovered the neuronal mechanisms of compulsion, the defining symptom of several psychiatric diseases.
Eric Nestler, a professor of neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has pioneered the understanding of the molecular, cellular, and physiological changes in the brain caused by drugs of abuse. Through the pioneering use of viral-mediated gene transfer and inducible mutant mice, he experimentally altered the activity of genes within reward pathways and studied the consequences on the functioning of neural circuits and their behavioral outputs. Nestler was the first to demonstrate how common molecular mechanisms underlie different types of addictions. He also developed a well-validated mouse model of depression and used it to establish a critical role for the brain’s reward circuits in depression, a discovery since validated in humans. He used gene and chromatin analyses to discover numerous proteins that mediate either susceptibility or resistance to depression in animals, work that has transformed treatment efforts. By uniquely integrated molecular and cellular findings within a circuit and systems context, Nestler has transformed the field and made foundational contributions to establishing a molecular basis for drug addiction and depression.
SfN Service Award: David H. Cohen
As a special SfN Service Award for 2023, SfN is pleased to recognize David H. Cohen, for more than 50 years of volunteer service to SfN, including as SfN president from 1981 to 1982. “On behalf of SfN, I am delighted to present this award to Dr. Cohen to express the Society’s gratitude for his five decades of contributions as a volunteer leader,” said Oswald Steward, SfN president. “His work as a leader, mentor, and advocate for neuroscience helped shape the Society into the organization it is today.”
Cohen’s academic journey started in mathematics at Harvard, continued with psychology at UCLA, and from there he joined the emerging field of neuroscience. His research focused on creating a vertebrate model system to identify synaptic physiological mechanisms of a simple form of learning (classical conditioning) using pigeons. This involved pairing a conditioned stimulus (CS) with mild shock (UCS) and measuring increases in heart rate, which are a measure of the overall autonomic response. This work identified the amygdala as a point of convergence of signals induced by CS and UCS and the likely site of learning. This work heralded later studies by many others that identified the amygdala as a key node in fear conditioning. Cohen joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in 1968, and his engagement with the Society began as SfN was founded. He founded the SfN Virginia chapter in 1970 and joined the Committee on Chapters in 1971. He was elected SfN secretary in 1975 and played a key role in early advocacy and international outreach. As SfN president from 1981 to 1982, he focused on strategic goals of the Society and on promoting neuroscience as a developing field.
After his term as president and on SfN Council, he worked to help build the long-term financial stability of the Society. He served on the Long-Range Planning Committee in the early 1980s, joined the Finance Committee in 2000 and served as the founding chair of the SfN Investment Committee beginning in 2002. His astute leadership guided the foundation of the financial strategy that brought SfN through the COVID-19 pandemic. He served on the Real Estate Committee from 2004 to 2006 and played a key role in SfN’s decision to buy a building in Washington, D.C. Since then, he has remained a longtime mentor and advisor to many SfN leaders and staff. He continues to serve as an active member of the Investment Committee.
Beyond his volunteer leadership in the Society, Cohen’s many contributions to neuroscience and higher education span his long career. After the University of Virginia, he went to SUNY Stony Brook, where he created a new Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. In 1986 he moved into university administration, becoming vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at Northwestern University and eventually becoming provost. In 1995 he moved to Columbia University, where he was vice president and dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences until retiring from that role in 2003. He has served other societies, most notably as president for the Association of Neuroscience Departments and Programs and chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 35,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.