Husband and Wife Neurobiologists at Yale Share Prestigious Gerard Prize in Neuroscience

Yale School of Medicine neurobiologists Pasko Rakic, M.D., the Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor and Chair of Neurobiology and Patricia Goldman-Rakic, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Neurobiology, jointly received the distinguished Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience at the 2002 Society of Neuroscience meeting on November 3.

The Society for Neuroscience endows the Gerard Prize, sponsored by Eli Lilly & Co., to honor and recognize outstanding contributions to the field of neuroscience research. The prize, a plaque and an honorarium, is named after Ralph W. Gerard, who was instrumental as a founding father of the Society for Neuroscience and who served as its honorary president from 1970 until his death in 1974. The fact that eleven of the previous recipients have also received the Nobel Prize indicates its significance and prestige in the field of neuroscience.

Fred H. Gage, current president of the Society, announced before the more than 3,000 attendees of the ceremony, that both Drs. Rakic and Goldman-Rakic were recognized for their “extraordinary” contributions to present understanding of the cerebral cortex. Gage said that the cerebral cortex is considered one of the most complex structures in the human brain and in biology, but is often shunned by researchers. However, the Rakic’s have devoted their independent careers to exploring the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which it evolves and mediates the highest mental functions and their dissolution in various brain disorders.

While Rakic’s research centered on early developmental events such as neuronal proliferation and migration in the cerebral cortex, Goldman-Rakic’s attention was drawn to the cellular mechanisms of cortical function, particularly as they relate to learning and memory and disorders of higher brain functions such as in schizophrenia.

Rakic’s studies of molecular and cellular events in the developing cerebral cortex provided the foundation for studies of cellular interactions and differential cell adhesion as key mechanisms for cell-cell recognition and guidance of migrating neurons to their appropriate final positions, setting the stage for the formation of synaptic connections.

Goldman-Rakic is recognized for path-breaking studies on the cellular basis of short-term memory and the selective modulation of cortical microcircuits by dopamine receptors - studies that have invigorated the frontal lobe hypothesis of schizophrenia. Her work is credited with placing cognitive phenomena on a firm neurobiological foundation.

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