NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NIMH Holds 9th Annual Julius Axelrod Symposium

Dr. Malenka
Dr. Robert Malenka

This year’s Julius Axelrod Symposium was held to honor the recipient of the 2016 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Julius Axelrod Prize, Dr. Robert Malenka. Over the last three decades, Malenka has made major discoveries that have laid the foundation for our understanding of the physiological properties, molecular mechanisms and functions of synaptic plasticity. His scientific reputation was established with his initial studies of long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) triggered by NMDA receptors in the hippocampus. These long-lasting activity-dependent changes in the efficacy of synaptic transmission play an important role in the development of neural circuits and may mediate many forms of learning and memory. 

As both a psychiatrist and neurobiologist, Malenka has been at the forefront of applying knowledge gained from basic research to the understanding of a wide range of brain disorders including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction, depression and schizophrenia. He has trained and mentored more than 100 postdoctoral fellows and students including NIDA scientific director Dr. Antonello Bonci; Dr. Alison Barth, professor at Carnegie Mellon University; Dr. Karl Deisseroth, Chen professor at Stanford University; and Dr. Nicole Calakos, professor at Duke University.   

The symposium was kicked off with a “Remembrance of Julie” given by former NIMH scientific director Dr. Steven Paul, president & CEO of Voyager Therapeutics, who talked in detail about his years with “Julie.” 

Paul reminisced about the extraordinary contributions to science and training that were made by Axelrod and the lineage of scientists who were fortunate to train in his laboratory.

Malenka delivered the keynote address, describing his relatively new work on deciphering the neural mechanisms of social reward. 

Other speakers at the symposium included Dr. Yeka Aponte of the neural circuits and behavior unit at NIDA and Dr. Chris McBain of NICHD’s Laboratory of Cellular and Synaptic Neurophysiology.

NIMH postdoctoral fellow Dr. Vincent Costa was awarded the 2017 NIMH IRP Fellows’ Axelrod Award and spoke on his work in primates on understanding explore-exploit decision-making processes. 

This year the symposium included a data blitz session consisting of brief oral presentations that highlighted the work of a number of talented NIMH IRP trainees including Matthew Coon, Dr. Amicia Elliott, Dr. Andrew Emery, Dr. Jennifer Glaus, Dr. Sarah Williams and Dale Zhou.  

Symposium attendees
At the symposium are (from l) NIMH director Dr. Joshua Gordon; Dr. Steven Paul, president & CEO of Voyager Therapeutics; Malenka; NIMH postdoctoral fellow Dr. Vincent Costa; and Dr. Susan G. Amara, 2014 SfN Julius Axelrod Prize recipient and NIMH scientific director.

In addition, the symposium closed with a poster session/reception in which 37 exceptional NIMH IRP trainees shared their science with attendees.

The 10th annual Julius Axelrod Symposium will be held at NIH in spring 2018 to honor the 2015 Julius Axelrod Prize awardee Dr. Pietro De Camilli, chair of the department of cell biology at Yale University School of Medicine, and the 2017 recipient who will be announced at the annual SfN meeting in Washington, D.C., this coming November. 

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