Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award Recognizes Eight Exemplary Scientists
Eight noted investigators were recently awarded the prestigious
Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences, which provides
for up to seven years of research funding from the National Institute
of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). A component of the
National Institutes of Health, the NINDS is the nation's primary
federal sponsor of research on the brain and nervous system.
Authorized by the United States Congress in 1983, the award honors
the late U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javits, who was a strong advocate
for research on a variety of neurological disorders. Senator Javits
suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disabling neurodegenerative
disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
The award is presented to investigators who have demonstrated exceptional
scientific excellence and productivity in research areas supported
by the NINDS and who are expected to conduct cutting-edge research
over the next 7 years. It provides guaranteed funding for 4 years,
after which 3 additional years may be awarded pending receipt and
approval of additional information. Investigators are nominated
by NINDS staff, on the recommendation of the National Advisory Neurological
Disorders and Stroke Council, from among a pool of competing grant
applicants during a given grants cycle. An investigator may receive
the Award only once, a policy that began in 1996.
Receiving the Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences are:
Lynn W. Enquist, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Molecular Biology,
Princeton University. Dr. Enquist is using the pseudorabies virus
(PRV) to identify nerve cell circuits in the intact rat nervous
system. He is exploring the factors of PRV that allow it to penetrate
and become lethal in the central nervous system, with the goal of
identifying the PRV gene products that stimulate neuronal firing.
PRV is a member of the herpes virus family and this work is expected
to lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of infection
of neurons and the pain caused by these viruses. This work will
also provide new insights into the nature of neuronal connections
or synapses that lead into the brain and how they differ from neuronal
synapses in other parts of the nervous system.
David L. Glanzman, Ph.D., Professor of Physiological Science and
Neurobiology, University of California, Los Angeles. Using the marine
snail Aplysia to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of
learning and memory, Dr. Glanzman has focused his research mainly
on two simple forms of learning: classical conditioning and sensitization.
His award will fund a series of innovative experiments that will
combine behavioral, electrophysiological, pharmacological, and molecular
techniques in investigating the roles of postsynaptic glutamate
receptors in classical conditioning. The work will provide new insights
into the mechanisms of neural plasticity.
Kristen M. Harris, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurobiology,
Medical College of Georgia. A pioneer in the field of synaptic
plasticity (the variability in the strength of a signal that is
transmitted through a synapse), Dr. Harris has developed innovative
approaches using a computer-assisted 3-dimensional reconstruction
technique to quantitatively measure structural changes along the
nerve cell's dendrites at central synapses during plasticity. Previous
studies of long-term plasticity involved with in vitro preparations,
such as brain slice, have limitations. The Javits Award will allow
Dr. Harris to examine changes in synaptic structure and cellular
mechanisms of learning and memory in the brains of awake, active
animals. Her findings will help to identify synapses that are involved
in cognitive processes, such as forming new memories, and may contribute
to potential intervention strategies for cognitive dysfunction seen
in degenerative neurological diseases.
Brian K. Kobilka, M.D., Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology
and Medicine, Stanford University Brain Research Institute. Dr.
Kobilka has developed sophisticated biochemical and biophysical
technologies that have led to major advances in understanding cell-signaling
mechanisms. He is a leader in G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR)
structure and function, in which molecular structures on the surface
of the cell bind to a protein and generate a signal. One of the
largest and most important families of receptors in the human genome,
GPCRs are involved in cellular responses to the majority of hormones
and neurotransmitters and represent an enormously significant target
for drug discovery. Dr. Kobilka's Javits Award will allow him to
conduct further studies using adrenergic receptors (proteins involved
in many neurologic disorders and with drug actions including antidepressants,
antiepileptics, and antihistamines) as a model system to characterize
Alex L. Kolodkin, Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins
University School of Medicine. Dr. Kolodkin is studying molecules
that guide nerve cells into the brain and mechanisms that move a
signal from outside to inside the cell. He is co-discoverer of the
semaphorin family of guidance molecules and has identified the complex
signaling they use to guide neurons to their correct targets during
development. His work is unique in that it successfully combines
fly and mouse genetic models to functionally study how axons, the
cable-like appendages from nerve cells, reach their target sites.
Research findings will further the understanding of how axons navigate,
and should yield new insights into mechanisms of axonal regeneration
after spinal cord injury, tumor development, and immune system function.
Jeffrey D. Macklis, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurology, Massachusetts
General Hospital. Dr. Macklis has made significant contributions
to the understanding of neuronal replacement and cellular repair
of the brain following injury. His research shows that, contrary
to previously held beliefs, the reconstruction of complex networks
in the brain's cerebral cortex can be achieved in adulthood. Using
a method that he pioneered, Dr. Macklis was the first investigator
to demonstrate that, following localized injury, the adult mammalian
precortex can be repopulated by new neurons. Some of these new nerve
cells send axonal projections long distances into target regions
and could potentially contribute to the restoration of function.
In his most recent research proposal, Dr. Macklis hopes to identify
the best conditions for the integration of neurons into existing
networks of the somatosensory cortex, which receives tactile information
from the body. His findings may lead to the development of cell
replacement therapies to treat brain disorders.
Andrew P. McMahon, Ph.D., the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of
Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University. A leader in
the field of developmental biology and co-discoverer of the signaling
protein named Sonic hedgehog (Shh), Dr. McMahon has made seminal
contributions to the understanding of signal transduction pathways
that control brain and spinal cord development. His research has
established paradigms in the areas of embryonic pattern formation
and axon guidance in the mouse and chick, providing a foundation
for understanding and treating developmental neurological disorders
and certain tumors. His Javits-winning research proposal which combines
embryonic manipulations possible in the chick with genetic methods
available in the mouse will advance our understanding of the development
of the neural tube and spinal cord precursor cells, provide insight
into Shh-linked tumors, and identify candidate molecular targets
for therapeutic intervention for disorders that disturb patterning
and cell proliferation.
Jerry Silver, Ph.D., Professor of Neurosciences, Case Western Reserve
University School of Medicine. Dr. Silver investigates the role
of astrocytes in spinal cord regeneration following injury. His
work has established the inhibitory role astrocytes can play in
preventing central nervous system (CNS) regeneration. These cells
create a cellular and molecular barrier at the site of injury, called
the glial scar. Dr. Silver has shown how certain potent axonal growth
inhibitors (proteoglycans) contribute to that barrier to regeneration.
Proteoglycans play a role in guiding or even blocking axonal growth
during development, after injury, and in degenerative diseases.
Dr. Silver has created a novel in vitro model of the glial scar,
which combines growth-promoting and growth-inhibiting molecules
involved in CNS white matter tract injury. His highly innovative
research proposal will study the response of sensory and CNS neurons
from adult and developing animals to this model system and test
combination strategies to promote growth. Finally, he will test
these strategies in vivo, attempting to stimulate sensory axons
to grow past an inhibitory region at the dorsal root entry zone
(the outer margin of the spinal cord). His findings may prove invaluable
in developing and testing potential therapies for spinal cord injury.
The NINDS is a component of the NIH within the Department of
Health and Human Services and is the nation's primary supporter
of biomedical research on the brain and nervous system. More information
about the NINDS and its research programs may be found at www.ninds.nih.gov.
This release will be posted on the NINDS website at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/news