The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) and Boehringer Ingelheim are delighted to announce that the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2020 has been awarded to Dr. Johannes Gräff for his pioneering research on epigenetic mechanisms in memory formation.
Dr. Gräff is a Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne since 2013. His research aims at shedding light onto the contribution of epigenetic mechanisms to memory formation, storage, and decline, with a particular focus on long-lasting traumatic memories and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
In his PhD studies, Johannes found that epigenetic mechanisms not only accompany the spatiotemporal dynamics of memory consolidation, but were indeed necessary for it. During his postdoctoral time, he then discovered that the epigenetic machinery also causally contributes to aberrant memories. First, during Alzheimer’s-related neurodegeneration, where he revealed a substantial lack of neuroplasticity-promoting epigenetic modifications, which impinged on memory formation. Second, for maladaptively strong memories as occurring following a traumatic experience, he delineated that pharmacologically increasing epigenetic marks facilitated their extinction. These findings have inspired ongoing translational studies seeking to harness the reversibility of epigenetic marks to treat AD and trauma-related memory disorders.
Research in his lab currently focuses on two areas. For AD, Johannes’ group unveiled the first disease-relevant genetically determined epigenetic modification, centered on a gene called PM20D1. They found that the epigenetic regulation of PM20D1 was coupled to an AD-risk associated genetic region, which contacted PM20D1 via a three-dimensional chromatin loop. As PM20D1 was increased following neurotoxic insults, and alleviated memory impairments in an AD mouse model, these findings lay the foundation of a novel research path in AD.
For traumatic memories, they have for the first time identified the neuronal subpopulations responsible for the successful attenuation of remote fear memories. Using a combination of transgenic mice with birectional activity manipulation of defined neuronal subpopulations, Johannes’ group has shown that the successful attenuation of remote fear memories was accompanied by a functionally relevant reactivation of recall-induced neurons. This finding underscores the importance to relearn the traumatic experience towards safety, rather than to suppress it.
Johannes replied: “I’m deeply honoured to be the recipient of the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2020. It’s a tremendous recognition of my scientific contributions, and of those who helped and accompanied me on this journey: Mentors, collaborators, friends and my family.”
FENS and Boehringer Ingelheim would like to congratulate Dr. Gräff on his outstanding scientific achievements. The award will be presented during the 12th Forum of European Neuroscience in Glasgow (11-15 July 2020) where Dr. Gräff will give the Boehringer-Ingelheim / FENS Research Award lecture.