NIMH Holds 10th Axelrod Symposium
NIMH recently hosted the 10th annual Julius Axelrod Symposium in remembrance of the NIH intramural Nobel laureate’s scientific contributions and mentoring prowess. This year, the symposium honored 2015 and 2017 Society for Neuroscience Julius Axelrod Prize winners Dr. Pietro De Camilli and Dr. Moses Chao, respectively.
Chao has contributed significantly to the body of knowledge on nerve growth factors (NGFs) and receptor signaling. His lab seeks to identify the biochemical steps in trophic factor signaling and to understand how specificity is encoded in cell-cell communication in the nervous system. This work has yielded important discoveries in how neurotrophins nourish neurons, guide axons to form their proper connections and promote their survival.
Currently professor of cell biology, physiology and neuroscience and psychiatry at NYU’s Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, Chao early in his career identified the p75 and TrkA receptors and demonstrated their roles in creating high-affinity binding sites for NGF. His team and collaborators then identified downstream mechanisms that account for how growth factors affect neuronal survival and synaptic plasticity. Over the past decade, he has uncovered novel aspects of downstream signaling for brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the TrkB receptor relevant to neurodegeneration, learning and memory.
When presenting the prize to Chao, SfN president Dr. Eric Nestler said, “In addition to his seminal research contributions in neuronal growth and signaling, his exemplary efforts in providing public service as a teacher and mentor make him a genuine leader in the field.”
For many years, De Camilli has studied steps involved in the release of neurotransmitters from synaptic vesicles and the re-formation of these vesicles inside nerve endings, elucidating key molecular mechanisms governing this cycle of membrane traffic. He has also contributed to our understanding of diseases of the nervous system that involve autoimmunity against synaptic proteins.
De Camilli is John Klingenstein professor of neuroscience and chair of the department of neurobiology at Yale University, as well as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, founding director of the Yale Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair and director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience.
“The society honors Dr. De Camilli for his outstanding contributions to neuroscience, and especially to neuropharmacology, as well as his commitment to mentorship,” noted SfN president Dr. Steven Hyman in 2015. “Dr. De Camilli has mentored a large number of students and young researchers, both in his lab and beyond, who have gone on to have successful independent careers in neuroscience and related disciplines.”
In addition to the two keynote addresses, Dr. Antonina Roll-Mecak of NINDS’s cell biology and biophysics section spoke on “How cells read and write the tubulin code.” Dr. Amicia Elliott, a postdoctoral fellow in NIMH’s section on neural function, was presented the NIMH Julius Axelrod Memorial Fellows’ Award (in basic science), which includes a travel award and $10,000 to help defray research-related expenses. She spoke on use of light-sheet microscopy, which she built to study fruit flies, with the goal of finding out how neural circuits coordinate complex behaviors.
The symposium also included a data blitz session, where NIMH trainees Jakob Seidlitz, Dr. Jennie Garcia-Olivares, Dr. Stacey Kigar and Dr. Emily Finn gave short oral presentations of their work, and a closing poster session/reception that gave 27 trainees an opportunity to discuss their research with symposium attendees.