While the field of neuroscience isn’t known for flash or glamour, the Brain Prize
is definitely a prestigious and talked about award. Awarded each year by the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation in Denmark, it recognizes one or more scientists whose work has made a significant contribution to the advancement of neuroscience. In a first, three British neuroscientists have been awarded the prize, which carries a monetary award of one million Euros.
Tim Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris were announced as the winners of the 2016 award on March 1st
, 2016. Their work on the mechanics and functions of memory in the brain in the brain was recognized for the impact it could have on the causes and treatments of several neurodegenerative diseases. The research by Professors Bliss, Collingridge and Morris focused on a brain mechanism known as ‘Long-Term Potentiation’ (LTP), which is responsible for plasticity in the brain and how memories are made and sometimes lost.
Memory is the brain’s most important function. Without the ability to store experiences from our past, we couldn’t learn a language, read, write or even find our way around. The ability to process all the stimuli we receive in the world would be lost without the vital structure of the hippocampus and it’s function in memory formation and retention.
While the three have never worked in the same laboratory, they have collaborated over the years working on understanding how the synapses in the brain can be strengthened. The hippocampus is the center of where new memories are formed and LTP is how those memories are retained. Professor Bliss studied LTP back in 1973 with colleague Terje Lømo which resulted in the first detailed description of LTP, its cellular make up and its role in memory.
Co-winner Graham Collingridge’s work has been largely about identifying the key molecules that are active in LTP. Specifically, it was his work that led to the discovery of the protein receptor NMDA, which is crucial for communication between nerve cells in the brain.
In 1986, Richard Morris, who is well known for the water maze used for evaluating memory in lab mice, developed a method that showed mice also used LTP to process and retain memory. Using drugs that acted on the NMDA receptor, he was able to define the role of LTP in memory in the mouse brain.
In a press release
, Sir Colin Blakemore, chairman of the selection committee said, “Memory is at the heart of human experience. This year’s winners, through their ground-breaking research, have transformed our understanding of memory and learning, and the devastating effects of failing memory.”
Memory and learning depend on LTP of brain cells and in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, autism, depression and others it is disrupted. Understanding the details of what it looks like in a health brain could lead to treatments for these conditions. Professors Bliss, Collingridge and Morris will share the prize equally. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark will present it to them in a ceremony in Copenhagen on July 1, 2016.