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2006 Gruber Neuroscience Prize Press Release

Masao Ito Headshot
Masao Ito
Roger Nicoll Headshot
Roger Nicoll

Masao Ito and Roger Nicoll Win International Neuroscience Prize

The secrets of memory

Atlanta, Oct. 15, 2006

How do we learn? How do we remember?

Two neuroscientists - whose work is answering these questions - will be honored today with the $250,000 Gruber Prize for Neuroscience.

"Professor Masao Ito from the Rikin Institute in Japan, and Professor Roger Nicoll from the University of California, San Francisco, have together provided the keys to our understanding of the molecular and cellular bases of learning and memory," says Peter Gruber, President of the Peter Gruber Foundation.

Professor Ito, special advisor to the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, and Professor Nicoll, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, will receive their awards at Neuroscience 2006, the annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience, held this year in Atlanta, Georgia. Each will receive a gold medal and a $125,000 cash prize.

They will jointly present the Peter Gruber Lecture entitled, Brain learns with molecules and circuitry. ?Click here to read Professor Ito's lecture. ?Click here to see Professor Ito's presentation.

Ito and Nicoll have been shining light on the complex workings of the brain for the past four decades. Both men worked with and have built on the achievements of Nobel Laureate John Eccles.

They are the third recipients of the Neuroscience Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation, which is awarded annually to honor the most distinguished work in the field of the brain, nervous system and the spinal cord.

What is memory? In one of many research contributions, Ito showed how motor learning (subconscious memory of procedures like driving) might function in the cerebellum. His team has identified over 30 molecules involved in these processes.

Nicoll has shown how episodic memory (such as memory of personal emotions and associations with a particular place) might be stored in the hippocampus.

These and many other discoveries have opened up new fields of study for neuroscience.

"The work of Nicoll and Ito is teaching us how our brains work at a molecular level. Once we understand the chemistry of thought we may then be able to design better drugs to deal with Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases of the brain," says Peter Gruber.

About the Foundation
The Peter Gruber Foundation was founded in 1993 and established the first of its international prizes in 2000. The Foundation now supports five international awards: Cosmology; Genetics, Neuroscience; Justice and Women's Rights.

The 2006 Cosmology Prize was presented in August to NASA's John Mather. Last week it was announced that he will share the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics. The Justice Prize was awarded in September to Aharon Barak, recently retired President of the Supreme Court of Israel. The Genetics Prizes was awarded last Tuesday to Elizabeth Blackburn for her work on cell aging and telomeres. The Women's Rights Prize will be presented in New York next month.

Background: The 2006 Neuroscience Prize

The Neuroscience Prize honors the most distinguished work in the field of the brain, nervous system and the spinal cord.

The official citation reads:

"The 2006 Neuroscience Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to Dr. Masao Ito, RIKEN, and Dr. Roger Nicoll, University of California, San Francisco, whose studies provided the keys for our understanding of the molecular and cellular bases of learning and memory.

The Foundation recognizes the pioneering work of Dr. Ito concerning the role of the cerebellum in motor learning and the overall organization of neuronal circuitry involving network and cellular mechanisms for changing synaptic strength, and the outstanding contribution of Dr. Nicoll's work on the hippocampus as a cellular model for the formation of episodic memory and, in particular, the molecular and cell biological mechanisms underlying changes in synaptic efficacy.

In a global perspective, Drs. Ito and Nicoll have contributed importantly, over many decades, to furthering neuroscience at all levels, from molecular and cellular to the circuit level, as well as to the training of a new generation of outstanding neuroscientists."

Past Winners of the Neuroscience Prize

  • Masakazu Konishi and Eric Knudsen (2005)
  • Seymour Benzer (2004)

Neuroscience Advisory Board

An international panel of experts. Its members are:

  • Huda Akil
  • Linda S. Buck
  • Sten Grillner
  • Tomas G.M. Hokfelt
  • Lily Yeh Jan
  • Donald L. Price
  • Solomon H. Snyder

Following the award presentation Masao Ito and Roger Nicoll will jointly present the 2006 Gruber Lecture: Brain Learns with Molecules and Circuitry.

The abstract reads: A general consensus has emerged that information storage in the brain involves persistent changes in synaptic strength that, in turn, modify local circuit behavior.

Roger Nicoll will focus on the cellular and molecular substrates for explicit learning and memory. The hippocampus is critical for this form of memory. In this structure, activity-dependent long-term potentiation (LTP) of excitatory synapses is proposed to play a critical role. Recent work from many labs suggests that LTP is due to the rapid insertion of glutamate receptors into the synapse. The molecular machines involved in long-term depression (LTD) and LTP share similarities and differences.

Masao Ito will discuss long term depression (LTD) of excitatory synapses occurring in cerebellar Purkinje cells as a memory process. While complex processes involving more than 30 different molecules underlie LTD, the molecular machines involved in LTD and LTP share similarities and differences. LTD gives rise to a mechanism for the cerebellar circuitry to form internal models that serve a broad range of implicit learning mechanisms.