Johannes Gräff (CH), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2020

This award is sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim and is announced by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies. The award is given in recognition of outstanding and innovative scientific work from all areas of neuroscience research.

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.

David Dupret (UK), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2018

The Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2018 has been awarded to Dr. David Dupret for his research on the dynamics of neuronal assemblies during memory processes.

David Dupret is leading a research programme at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Brain Network Dynamics Unit in the University of Oxford. His research is designed to reveal how populations of neurons underpin internal representations of the world and to identify the mechanisms by which such representations persist in memory. To do so, his group combines in vivo multi-channel recordings with optogenetic techniques to monitor and manipulate neuronal activity during memory-guided behaviour.

David’s work has provided several original insights into the operations of hippocampal circuits. Early work was pivotal in showing that memory updating relates to the emergence of new hippocampal spatial representations that flicker with, and vie for dominance over previous representations. In follow-on work, David reported that this competition between new and old memories is orchestrated by the reorganisation of inhibitory circuits. The group then continued to break new ground by establishing that the consolidation of new memory representations requires their off-line reactivation during sharp-wave/ripple oscillatory events. Pioneering experiments further revealed that a hippocampal representation paired with the experience of a drug of abuse can be edited to alleviate the expression of a place-drug memory. The group’s current research is deciphering the inter-areal mechanisms supporting adaptive and multi-modal memories. In so doing, these projects probe interventions aimed at rebalancing brain dynamics by the targeted reprogramming of the cell assemblies holding dysfunctional memory representations.

David commented: “I am thrilled to be the recipient of the 2018 Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award. This is an amazing recognition of my scientific contributions, and a great honour for myself and all lab members and mentors that I have had the privilege to work with”.

The award will be presented during the 11th Forum of European Neuroscience 2018 in Berlin where Dr Dupret will give the Boehringer-Ingelheim / FENS Research Award lecture.

Gaia Novarino (AU), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2016

The Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2016 has been awarded to Dr. Gaia Novarino for her research on the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying human genetic disorders.

As group leader at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria in Klosterneuburg, Austria, Dr Novarino is currently leading a research programme focused on identifying the genetic and molecular basis underlying inherited forms of epilepsy, intellectual disability and autism.

Prior to her appointment as Group Leader, Dr. Novarino, an Italian native, has worked as research fellow in the UCSD, at the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine as well as in the Center for molecular neurobiology in Hamburg, Germany.  Dr. Novarino’s research has been published in very high impact journals including Science, Cell and Neuron.

The award will be presented during the 10th Forum of European Neuroscience 2016 in Copenhagen where Dr Novarino will give the Boehringer-Ingelheim / FENS Research Award lecture.

The FENS Research Award is given in recognition of outstanding and innovative scientific work from all areas of neuroscience. The award is donated by Boehringer Ingelheim and is announced by FENS during its FENS Forum of Neuroscience.

Previous awardees include Dr. Judit Makara, Ilka Diester, Fekrije Selimi, Pascal Fries, Zoltan Nusser, Isabelle Mansuy and Stanislas Dehaene.

Judit Makara (HU), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2014

The Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2014 is confered to Dr. Judit Makara, Institute of Experimental Medicine of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary for her findings on the mechanisms that determine interactions and integration of multiple activated synaptic inputs in neurons.

Judit Makara is in particular interested in the impact of local properties of the receiving dendrites at the site of activity. Both passive and active electrical properties provide forms of dendritic processing that can shape the voltage responses particularly to strong, spatio-temporally correlated excitatory synaptic inputs, allowing specific detection of patterns of synaptic activity. Furthermore, these dendritic properties, particularly ion conductances may be regulated by experience. Combining two-photon microscopic imaging and uncaging with electrophysiological and optogenetic techniques, allowing specific stimulation of multiple synapses, her goal is to explore how such dendritic computational mechanisms and their modulation may contribute to the flexible formation and consolidation of information-coding neuronal ensembles in the hippocampus.

Judit Makara is a medical doctor who did her PhD in cellular physiology with Prof. András Spät at the Department of Physiology of the Semmelweis Medical University in Budapest, Hungary. Between 2003-2006 she worked as a postdoctoral fellow with Prof. Tamás Freund at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Budapest, Hungary where she started focusing on neuronal physiology. In 2006 she joined the lab of Dr. Jeff Magee at Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia for a second postdoc period where she studied dendritic integration of excitatory synaptic inputs and, together with her colleagues, made several discoveries on the effects of plastic dendritic properties on information processing in hippocampal neurons. In 2011 she returned to her home country Hungary, where she established her own research group at the Institute of Experimental Medicine of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

The Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award is sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim and is announced by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS). It is given in recognition of outstanding and innovative scientific contributions in any area of neuroscience research. The prize money is 25.000 Euro. Applications can either be submitted by candidates themselves, or candidates can be proposed. Applicants must be under 40 years of age and either be working in a European institute or be European origin working abroad. The award was presented in Milan during the 9th Forum of European Neuroscience 2014 (July 5 – 9, 2014). The prize winner gave a plenary lecture at the meeting.

Ilka Diester (DE), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2012

In 2012, the Award was given to Ilka Diester, a researcher at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute (ESI) in Cooperation with Max Planck Society (Frankfurt am Main, Germany).

The award winner is interested in studying the neural mechanisms controlling movements, with a particular focus on the impact of neuronal connectivity differences between mammalian species. She combines optogenetic techniques with complex behaviors in rodents and rhesus monkeys to dissect the neural circuits underlying movements. Her dual-species approach allows fast developments of new tools in rodents and direct translation of knowledge to rhesus monkeys which are able to conduct more complex and controlled movements. Compared with electrical stimulation, optogenetic manipulations have a more subtle effect on behavior in rhesus monkeys. Her project aims at investigating the differences between electrical and optical stimulation further and define the neural circuits in rodents and primates underlying the differential impact of optogenetic stimulation on behavior. This will enable a better understanding of the stimulation methods and the neural mechanisms for movement control in both species.

Dr. Ilka Diester graduated from the Humboldt University (Berlin, Germany). She received a PhD in Neuroscience in 2008 from the University of Tübingen (Tübingen, Germany) for her studies on the neural correlates of numerical competence in rhesus monkeys in the laboratory of Andreas Nieder. She then joined Karl Deisseroth’s laboratory for Bioengineering and the Neural Prosthetic Systems laboratory led by Krishna Shenoy at the Stanford University (Stanford, USA) as a post-doctoral fellow funded by the Human Frontier Science Program. There she established optogenetics in rhesus monkeys and developed strategies for advancing optogenetics in non-transgenic animals with a promoter-independent projection targeting approach. In 2011, she returned to Germany as a research group leader and started her own group at the Ernst-Strüngmann-Institute (Frankfurt, Germany), with the scientific goal of defining the underlying brain activities and connectivity patterns necessary for movement generation.

The Boehringer-Ingelheim FENS Award 2012 was presented in Barcelona during the Forum of European Neuroscience 2012 (July 14-18, 2012). The prize winner gave a special lecture at the meeting.

Fekrije Selimi (FR), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2010

In 2010, the Award was given to Fekrije Selimi, a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in the laboratory 'Neurobiologie des Processus Adaptatifs' at the University Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris, France).

The award winner is interested in studying the mechanisms controlling the development of the highly sophisticated neuronal connectivity of the mammalian brain. She combines genetic modification of the mouse with biochemical approaches to dissect the signaling pathways underlying the specificity of brain connections. Her strategy, the 'synaptic protein profiling' approach, has allowed, the isolation of a single type of synapse from the mouse brain the parallel fiber/Purkinje cell synapse of the cerebellum for the first time. Coupled with mass spectrometry analysis this strategy has allowed the identification of about 60 different candidate proteins at this particular synapse. Her project aims at extending this approach to another synapse the climbing fiber/Purkinje cell synapse in order to perform the first comparison of the protein composition of two synapses with the same target-neuron: this will enable the direct identification of a potential 'molecular synaptic code'.

Dr Fekrije Selimi graduated from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris (France). She received a PhD in Neurosciences in 2000 from the University Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris, France) for her studies on the mechanisms of neuronal death in the Lurcher mutant mice in the laboratory of Pr. Mariani. She then joined the laboratory for Molecular Biology led by Pr. Nathaniel Heintz at the Rockefeller University (New York, USA) as a post-doctoral fellow funded by the Human Frontier Science Programme Organization. There she pursued her interest on the molecular biology of synapses and developed her strategy for the isolation of specific synapses from the mouse brain. In 2007, she came back to France as a CNRS chargé de recherche and started developing her own group in the laboratory "Neurobiologie des Processus Adaptatifs" at the University Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris, France), with the scientific goal of finding the signaling pathways underlying brain connectivity.

The Boehringer-Ingelheim FENS Award 2010 was presented in Amsterdam during the Forum of European Neuroscience 2010 (July 3-7, 2010). The prize winner gave a special lecture at the meeting.

Pascal Fries (NL), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2008

35 year old Dr. Pascal Fries from the F.C. Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, received the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2008 for his seminal contributions to the cognitive neurosciences.

The major scientific questions that are at the focus of Dr. Fries’ research relate to the issue of how perception is organised, how it is influenced by attention, and what the neural mechanisms are that instantiate these functions. One of his recently published theories embodies one of the major challenges in cognitive neuroscience: to link descriptions and explanations of perception, action, memory, etc. at the psychological level to a level of description and explanation of the neuronal substrate instantiating these functions. This is often referred to as vertical integration. Pascal Fries’ contributions and scientific potential are widely recognised.

Pascal Fries did his PhD with Prof. Wolf Singer in the Department of Neurophysiology of the Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt. From 1999 to 2001 he worked as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Robert Desimone at the Laboratory of Neuropsychology of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Since 2001 he is Principal Investigator at the F.C. Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. In 2006 Dr. Fries was recipient of the European Young Investigator Award from the European Science Foundation (ESF). In his EURYI project, he uses newly established methods to investigate the coherence topography among brain areas and their functional relevance for central cognitive operations and behaviour. With the prize money of the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award he plans to make these datasets publicly available.

The Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2008 was presented in Geneva during the Forum of European Neuroscience 2008 (July 12 - 16, 2008). The prize winner gave a special lecture at the meeting.

Zoltan Nusser (HU), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2006

Zoltan Nusser received Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Award at the Forum of European Neuroscience held from July 8-12, 2006, in Vienna, the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award, which is endowed with 25 000 Euro was presented for the third time. The sponsor, Boehringer Ingelheim, donates the award to young European scientists for exceptional research in the field of neurosciences.

37 year-old Dr Zoltan Nusser from the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Budapest, Hungary, received this year’s Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award for his outstanding studies on mechanisms of synaptic neurotransmission.

"It is a great honour for me to receive this award. I deeply appreciate the recognition of our scientific progress" said Dr. Nusser, who currently conducts basic research at the Laboratory of Cellular Neurophysiology of the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Budapest, Hungary. "The results of our research contribute to a better understanding of synaptic neurotransmission with special reference to the role of ligand- and voltage-gated ion-channels in this process", he added.

Through his pioneering work in the area of synaptic transmission and the study of ion channels, Dr. Zoltan Nusser has significantly impacted on European neuroscience research. His work serves as impressive proof that combined neuroanatomical, electrophysiological and modelling approaches are ideally suited to study the mechanisms underlying neuronal communication between nerve cells in health and disease state. "We appreciate that - for the third time - Boehringer Ingelheim can offer the FENS Research Award and is in the position to support the advancement of young scientists", says Dr. Barner, Vice-Chairman of the Board, Corporate Board Division Pharma Research, Development and Medicine at Boehringer Ingelheim.

"We are glad to be able to again demonstrate Boehringer Ingelheim’s commitment to basic research in the area of neuroscience since this is a prerequisite for progress in the efforts to discover new treatment options for patients suffering from devastating diseases of the nervous system", said Dr. Bernd Sommer, Head of Boehringer Ingelheim's Department of CNS Diseases Research, who presented the prize to Dr. Nusser.

The speech in Dr. Nusser’s honour was delivered by Professor Tamas Freund, President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS).

Isabelle Mansuy (CH), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2004

During the Forum of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) held July 10-14, 2004, in Lisbon, the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award was presented for the second time. Boehringer Ingelheim donates the 25.000 Euro award to young European scientists for exceptional research in the neurosciences.

The Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2004, which consists of both a certificate and prize money, was given to the 38-year-old Dr. Isabelle Mansuy for her outstanding studies on molecular mechanisms underlying learning and memory. "It is a great honour for me to receive this award. I deeply appreciate the recognition of our work" said Dr. Mansuy, who currently conducts research at the Institute of Cell Biology of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. "The results of our research contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms of learning and memory formation and may open new ways to therapy against dementia and cognitive impairment in the future", she added.

Through her pioneering work in the area of synaptic plasticity and learning using an inducible expression system, Dr. Isabelle Mansuy has had an important impact on European research in the neurosciences. Her work serves as impressive proof of the suitability of inducible expression of transgenes in the mammalian brain to elucidate mechanisms underlying memory.

The prize was presented by Professor Dieter Hinzen, Head of Boehringer Ingelheim's largest research and development centre in Biberach an der Riss in Germany: "By sponsoring the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award, Boehringer Ingelheim demonstrates its commitment to central nervous system research. This emphasises our support for basic research in neurosciences, leading to scientific progress and the development of therapeutic innovations," Professor Hinzen said. The speech in Dr. Mansuy's honour was delivered by Professor Pierre J. Magistretti, then President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS).

Stanislas Dehaene (FR), Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2002

During the Forum of European Neuroscience 2002 in Paris the Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award was awarded for the first time. This research award consists of both a certificate and prize money. The Boehringer Ingelheim FENS Research Award 2002 was given to the 37-year-old Dr. Stanislas Dehaene for his outstanding experimental studies of the cerebral basis of the higher cognitive functions of the human brain. Dr. Dehaene currently heads the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit of INSERM in the Service Hospitalier Frédéric Joliot in Orsay, France. "The results of my research will help researchers worldwide understand the nature of the brain mechanisms for language and arithmetics. Understanding how those mechanisms can fail should then enable us to design better forms of rehabilitation - especially for children", the recipient is quoted.

Dr. Stanislas Dehaene's pioneering research has been advancing our understanding of the cerebral processes underlying our handling of numbers and speech for some 15 years. His use of modern imaging techniques enables us to observe what happens in various parts of the brain while complex cognitive problems are being solved. Some experiments of a similar nature have been performed on animals.

Dr. Stanislas Dehaene recently used these brain imaging techniques to show that approximations of numbers are handled in a different cerebral tract from that used for exact calculations. The result obtained in this area together with his wife Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, resulted in a pioneering article on language development in children.

Stanislas Dehaene gave his lecture at the FENS Forum Meeting 2002 in Paris.