Thomas Jessell, PhD, the Claire Tow Professor of Motor Neuron Disorders in the Departments of Neuroscience and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University, is the recipient of the 2014 Neuroscience Prize of The Gruber Foundation. Jessell is being honored with this prestigious international award for his seminal work on the development and wiring of spinal cord neurons involved in the control of movement. He is also co-director of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, all at Columbia.
The award will be presented to Jessell, in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16 at the 44th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
"Tom Jessell is one of the world's leaders in the field of developmental neuroscience," says Ben Barres, a member of the Neuroscience Selection Advisory Board. "His research has completely changed our understanding of the mechanisms of neural circuit assembly and function, which, in turn, has helped create a blueprint for the development of potential treatments for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases."
When Jessell began his research more than three decades ago, very little was known about the movement-controlling neural circuitry of the spinal cord, one of the most evolutionarily conserved regions of the central nervous system (CNS). Through a groundbreaking series of studies, Jessell revealed how nave neural cells develop into hundreds of distinct subtypes of motor neurons to form that remarkable circuitry. He was the first scientist to show, for example, that a specific signaling protein known as Sonic hedgehog (Shh) determines the "fate" (subtype identify and role in movement) of many of these cells.
Jessell has also described the precise way in which the distinct subtypes of spinal neurons are connected with each other and how they control the patterned activity
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