Takahashi, circadian rhythms expert, named neuroscience chair

By Aline McKenzie

Dr. Joseph Takahashi, a pioneer in the study of circadian rhythms, has been named chairman of neuroscience.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, he was director of the Center for Functional Genomics at Northwestern University before joining the faculty at UT Southwestern.

Dr. Joseph Takahashi

“The emphasis on discovery and quality of science — and the outstanding people here at UT Southwestern — are extremely appealing,” Dr. Takahashi said. “There’s an institutional history and philosophy that supports science at the highest level. There’s this incredible cooperative spirit here — everyone pulls together.”

Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry and head of the search committee that brought Dr. Takahashi here, said, “Dr. Takahashi’s accomplishments are legendary in cracking open the molecular pathways controlling circadian rhythms. His vision is to employ genetics and the most advanced genomic techniques to understand fundamental animal behavior.”

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern, said, “Dr. Takahashi’s discoveries have uncovered the most basic mechanisms of body regulation. He also has taken advantage of new genetic techniques nearly as quickly as they have been invented, displaying a versatility and constant desire to re-educate himself. He is an outstanding choice to lead our neuroscience department.”

Dr. Takahashi, who holds the Loyd B. Sands Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience, said he plans to focus primarily on using genetics to understand brain function. “The department has the potential to expand significantly,” he said.

While an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, he found that some species of electric fish discharged current only at night, introducing him to his first research in circadian rhythms, the biological clocks that control behavioral, physiological and metabolic functions.

He continued to study circadian rhythms in graduate school with Dr. Michael Menaker at UT Austin. He followed his mentor to the University of Oregon, where he completed his doctorate in 1981. After postdoctoral work at the National Institute of Mental Health, he joined the Northwestern University faculty in 1983.

In the 1980s Dr. Takahashi initially developed cell culture model systems for studying the mechanism of circadian rhythms in vertebrates. In the 1990s he and his colleagues began using a forward genetic approach to find mutations that alter the circadian clock in mice. They used chemical mutagenesis to create random mutations and screened the mice for alterations in the timing of their circadian behavior.

Dr. Takahashi was elected to the NAS in 2003 and named as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000. He was selected as an HHMI investigator in 1997.

The Department of Neuroscience comprises 12 faculty members whose research includes the study of brain networks, synaptic transmission, development, and animal models for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Dr. McKnight holds the Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research and the Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery Jr., M.D., Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.