Yale cell biologist James E. Rothman today has been named one of three recipients awarded the 2010 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience, the second consecutive time a Yale scientist has been a co-recipient of the prestigious, biennial $1 million prize.
Dr. Rothman, the Fergus F. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Sciences, was honored for his role in discovering the molecular basis for the release of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that ferry information between neurons.
In 2008, Pasko Rakic, chairman of the Yale department of neurobiology, shared the inaugural award in neuroscience for his research in the development of the cerebral cortex.
“The University is doubly proud that a member of our faculty, who is also a graduate, has received such a prestigious recognition,” said President Richard C. Levin. “We look forward to future breakthroughs by Jim Rothman and his team from their center at our growing West Campus research complex.”
The Kavli Prizes are a partnership between the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and the Kavli Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by entrepreneur Fred
Kavli to promote basic science research. Kavli Prizes were also awarded in the fields of nanoscience and astrophysics.
Robert Scheller, executive vice president of biotechnology company Genetech, and Thomas C. Sudhoff of Stanford University, were co-recipients of the neuroscience award, given in recognition for their work in understanding the molecular means by which neurotransmitters are released into the synapse – the junction between cells. This signaling process is crucial to the operation of the central nervous system – including all brain functions.
“Most psychiatric disorders involve synaptic transmission one way or another, so to be able to intervene and combat these diseases you need to understand the molecular underpinnings of this,” said neuroscientist Eric Kandel of Columbia University and member of the Kavli committee which selected the winners. “These three people took the study of communication between synapses and brought it from a physiological to molecular level.”
Rothman is an international leader in understanding how neurotransmitters are transported within the nerve cell in vesicles that eventually fuse with the cell membrane, releasing their contents into the synapse. Rothman discovered that two proteins, independently identified by Sheller and Sudhof, helped regulate the release process, which is called exocytosis.
Rothman is chairman of the department of cell biology and has helped launch the Yale Center for High Throughput Cell Biology at Yale’s West Campus. He came to Yale from Columbia University in 2008. A Yale College graduate, Rothman has received numerous honors, including the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize and the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. The awards are often called “pre-Nobels” because many recipients have gone on to become Nobel Laureates.
For detailed information on each of the prizes, the winners and their work, see the Kavli Prize web page www.kavliprize.no