2012 Gruber Neuroscience Prize

The pioneering discoveries by molecular neurobiologists Lily Jan, PhD, and Yuh Nung Jan, PhD, have laid the groundwork for many important advances in the understanding of the development and function of the nervous system. Their first major discovery, reported in 1982, was that a peptide called luteinizing-hormone-release hormone (LHRH) acts as a neurotransmitter. Dozens of other peptide neurotransmitters have since been identified, and their role in health and disease is now its own field of scientific inquiry. The Jans also discovered that potassium channel abnormalities were responsible for the abnormal limb movements of the “Shaker” strain of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). In 1987—in another landmark paper—they announced the successful cloning of the Shaker gene, an event that marked the first successful cloning of a gene for a potassium ion channel. Once again, an entire new field of research opened up. Dozens of human genes encoding various potassium ion channels have been cloned and studied for their associations with a variety of diseases. The Jans have also been leaders in the field of neural development. Their research has led to many important discoveries regarding how different types of neurons develop their specific form and structure during embryonic development.