Takashi Kitamura and Laura Lewis to Receive Gruber International Research Award

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WASHINGTON, DC — The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has named Takashi Kitamura, assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and Laura Lewis, junior fellow at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital as co-recipients of the Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award. Supported by The Gruber Foundation, the award recognizes young neuroscientists for outstanding research and educational pursuit in an international setting and includes $25,000 for each recipient. The award will be presented at Neuroscience 2017, SfN’s annual meeting and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

 

It is always exciting to see promising neuroscientists make important contributions early in their careers, and Dr. Kitamura and Dr. Lewis have each demonstrated exceptional scientific merit and already made impressive discoveries with the potential to drive the future of the field,” SfN President Eric Nestler said.

 

Takashi Kitamura, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern, earned his doctorate in biology at Kyushu University in Japan. His thesis, “Molecular Mechanisms of Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis,” sought to identify the role of entorhinal hippocampal neuronal circuits in the formation of episodic memory and revealed important insight that formed the basis for his postdoctoral research at the Mitsubishi-Kaguku Institute as well as further research at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

 

Kitamura has made three major contributions in his career to date. First, he demonstrated that there are two types of excitatory neurons in layer II of the entorhinal cortex, “island cells” and “ocean cells,” both of which he named, and that pyramidal island neurons cluster in a series of bulblike structures while stellate ocean cells surround the structures. Second, in collaboration with another graduate student, he determined the function of each cell type, revealing island cells to control timing and navigation and ocean cells to encode static location. Third, he identified engrams and circuits crucial for systems consolidation of memory, which leads to the formation of long-term memories in the neocortex.

 

According to Nobel Prize winner Susumu Tonegawa, “These findings will force a significant revision of the decades-old standard model of system consolidation of memory.” Kitamura’s work, which he continues at his lab, offers promise in understanding cognitive impairments such as those evidenced in schizophrenic psychosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Laura Lewis, PhD, a dual citizen of Canada and Germany, earned her doctorate in neuroscience from MIT. She is now research staff at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. Her research aims to understand neural circuits that regulate arousal and to identify how these circuits influence information processing across large-scale brain networks that modulate cognition and behavior.

 

Working to show how anesthetic drugs act in the brain to produce states of decreased arousal, she spearheaded an interdisciplinary study that revealed that anesthesia induces loss of consciousness not by decreasing brain activity but rather by shifting patterns of activity such that communication networks within the brain are disrupted and brain regions isolated. As a follow-up to this finding, she studied the state of brain inactivation present during general anesthesia, coma, and extreme hypothermia, discovering that this state is characterized by a spatially localized pattern of brain activity. She further demonstrated in mice that a brain circuit can control slow wave states and cause one part of the brain to be in a sleep-like state while another is in a wakeful one, a discovery that may have important implications for operation and coma recovery protocols. Additionally, Lewis developed a new approach to neuroimaging that will enable localization of slow oscillations in brain waves that occur during sleep. She has received multiple travel, research, and merit awards.

 

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 37,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.

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