Südhof a"Freedom to Discover" Award molecular genetics Bristol-Myers Squibb Neuroscience Research synaptic communication

By Amanda Siegfried
Office of News and Publications

Dr. Thomas Südhof, a professor of molecular genetics at UT Southwestern who discovered key information about how the brain works in normal and disease states, is one of six leading researchers selected to receive honors from Bristol-Myers Squibb, a New York-based pharmaceutical company.

Dr. Südhof will receive the 17th annual Bristol-Myers Squibb "Freedom to Discover" Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research, to be presented in mid-October in New York. The award includes a $50,000 cash prize. 

Dr. Südhof, director of the Center for Basic Neuroscience at UT Southwestern, was recognized for his pioneering work on synaptic transmission, the process by which brain cells communicate with each other via chemical signals passed through the spaces, or synapses, between them.

Understanding the underlying mechanisms of synaptic communication is key to identifying how the brain processes information, both in health and in diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. 

"I am particularly honored to have been chosen for this award considering its history as one of the oldest and most respected neuroscience awards in the United States," Dr. Südhof said. "I am humbled by the list of people who have previously received this award, such as H. Robert Horvitz (2001), Thomas M. Jessell (2000), Richard Axel (1998), and Stanley B. Prusiner (1994)." 

Among his many research accomplishments, Dr. Südhof has made major strides toward understanding synaptic vesicles, the organelles in the brain that house neurotransmitters and that transmit chemical information from one neuron to another. Dr. Südhof 's lab purified, cloned and characterized six of the 12 families of membrane proteins that make up the structure of a synaptic vesicle. One of these proteins, synaptotagmin, is the major calcium sensor in the brain that is responsible for triggering the release of neurotransmitters from synaptic vesicles.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Südhof is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. At UT Southwestern, he holds the Gill Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience Research and the Loyd B. Sands Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience. He also directs the C. Vincent Prothro Center for Research in Basic Neuroscience.

Bristol-Myers Squibb annually presents awards in six biomedical research areas. Other 2004 recipients of distinguished achievement awards are: Dr. John Mendelsohn, UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, for cancer research; Dr. Jan-Ake Gustafsson, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, for nutrition research; Dr. Shaun R. Coughlin, University of California, San Francisco, for cardiovascular research; Dr. Hiroshi Nikaido, UC, Berkeley, for infectious disease research; and Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School, for metabolic research.