Mackenzie Mathis (CH), Sara Mederos (UK), Nicolas Renier (FR), Giacomo Valle (CH), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2022

The 2022 FENS-EJN Young Investigator Award is shared between these four talented researchers, who received a prize for their scientific contributions to neuroscience and gave a lecture at the FENS Forum 2022.

“The EJN Young Investigator Prize is a recognition of the neuroscience community, explained FENS President Jean-Antoine Girault. It highlights the excellent work done by researchers at an early stage of their career and makes it visible to a broad audience”.“This Prize, adds John Foxe, Editor-in-Chief of EJN, is a way for the European Journal of Neuroscience, together with its society FENS, to recognise outstanding work done by early career researchers who are leading the way in a field”.

The FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize is sponsored by Wiley (publisher of EJN). It is awarded every second year to an independent early career researcher in recognition of their outstanding scientific contributions to any area of neuroscience.

Professor Mackenzie Mathis (CH) is the Bertarelli Foundation Chair of Integrative Neuroscience and an Assistant Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL). After receiving her PhD at Harvard University in 2017, she was awarded the prestigious Rowland Fellowship at Harvard to start her own independent laboratory (2017-2020). Prof. Mathis’ work focuses on mechanisms underlying adaptive behaviour in intelligent systems combining machine learning, computer vision and experimental work in rodents. Her research may lead to new avenues in therapeutic research for neurological disease.

Dr Sara Mederos (UK) is a postdoctoral Fellow at The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour in London, United Kingdom. Through her research, Mederos has explored the complex relationships established by neurons and astrocytes in different scenarios. Her research had significantly contributed to revealing the complexity and richness of the communication between astrocytes, excitatory and inhibitory neurons for brain function. At the Hofer Lab, she is currently focused on the study of neuronal codification of instinctive reactions essential for animals’ survival, mainly how inputs to subcortical structures are shaped by experience and learning and ensure the storage of new information which is constantly adapting to unknown environmental conditions.

Dr Nicolas Renier (FR) started his own laboratory in 2017 at the Paris Brain Institute in Paris, where he is developing a research programme to understand the mechanisms and physiological impact of cerebral plasticity during development and in adult life. After finishing his doctoral training at the Vision Institute in Paris, Dr Renier moved to the laboratory of Marc Tessier-Lavigne in 2012 at the Rockefeller University in New York City (US) where he co-developed methods to map the brain and other organs in 3D using tissue clearing and light-sheet microscopy.

Dr Giacomo Valle (CH) is a postdoctoral researcher at the NeuroEngineering Laboratory, ETH Zurich, Switzerland. He aims to close the gap between humans and machines through his research by studying the connection between the human nervous system and bionic limbs. Dr Valle combines his knowledge of neuroscience, medicine and engineering to create somatosensory neural prostheses to restore sensory-motor functions.

Laurence Hunt (UK), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2020

The FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2020 is presented to Dr. Laurence Hunt (University of Oxford, UK).

Laurence Hunt is a Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Principal Investigator of the Cognitive Computational Neuroscience lab at the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging at the University of Oxford. Following the award of his DPhil in 2011, Dr. Hunt joined the labs of Professor Ray Dolan and Professor Steve Kennerley at University College London. In 2012, he was awarded a Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship to support his work at UCL. In 2016 he was awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Award by the Brain and Behavior Foundation, to pursue further independent research. In 2017, he was awarded a Henry Dale Fellowship by the Royal Society and Wellcome Trust to establish his own research group in Oxford.

Over the past decade, Dr. Hunt has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the contribution of different subregions of the primate prefrontal cortex to decision making, and learning. Uniquely, Dr. Hunt’s work has adopted a cross-species approach. He has combined neuroimaging techniques in humans with electrophysiological recordings in macaque monkeys, using analogous tasks across species. He has explained his findings using biophysically realistic network models of decision making. Predictions from these models are made both at the level of neural populations and macroscopic neuroimaging signals, as well as predicting subjects’ behavioural performance. As such, his work provides a unique insight into the underlying neural circuit mechanisms that give rise to macroscopic imaging measurements during decision making.

In a key paper in eLife in 2015, for example, he showed that a biophysical network model could explain the origins of certain ‘decision variables’ observed in both human magnetoencephalography and macaque single-unit data. He showed how such a model can predict how these variables should evolve over time as a decision is being formed. He then followed this with a breakthrough paper in Nature Neuroscience in 2018. In this, he demonstrated a clear-cut functional triple dissociation across different prefrontal subregions. He showed how these subregions were unique in which decision variables were represented, how these were shaped by attention, and how they evolve across time in the lead-up to a decision. He has published further papers in this area in leading journals including Nature, Science, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, eLife, Nature Reviews Neuroscience and the Journal of Neuroscience.

PFC is a brain area that has expanded substantially in humans and other primates. Dr. Hunt’s work has provided a unique lens through which to understand how primate PFC supports both normal and pathological decision making. His current work is expanding upon his previous research to understand how neurochemical manipulations of glutamate and dopamine modify PFC circuits during cognitive tasks. He argues that understanding circuit-level mechanisms in human PFC may provide the ‘missing link’ between molecular and behavioural explanations of several neuropsychiatric disorders. As part of the emerging field of ‘Computational Psychiatry’, his current work has the potential to change our understanding of neuropharmacological treatments of these disorders.

Sophie Steculorum (DE), Lucia Prieto Godino (CH), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2018

The FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2018 is shared between Dr. Sophie Steculorum (Max Planck Institute, Cologne, Germany) and Dr. Lucia Prieto Godino (University of Lausanne, Switzerland).

After receiving her PhD in 2011, Sophie Steculorum did her Postdoctoral training at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne, Germany.

In 2017, Dr. Steculorum was appointed Principal Investigator and Group Leader in the Group of Neurocircuit Wiring and Function at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany where she studies the neurobiological mechanisms involved in the pathophysiology of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Her research has provided pioneering new insights into fundamental regulatory principles of the control of energy and glucose homeostasis, some of which are currently being pursued as therapeutic targets for the treatment of metabolic disorders.

Sophie Steculorum has published her research in journals such as Cell, Cell Metabolism and Journal of Clinical Investigation and she is a recipient of several awards and research grants, including the Nikon Young Scientist Award 2016.

With a PhD from the University of Cambridge, UK in 2011, Lucia Prieto Godino currently holds a position as Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Integrative Genomics at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

In her research, Dr. Pireto Godino uses a genetic approach to study the developmental and circuit mechanisms underlying the evolution olfactory pathway and development of sensory systems in Drosophila.

Lucia Prieto Godino has published her work in high-ranking journals including in Neuron, Nature and PLoS Biology. In 2016 she was the recipient of the NEB Passion in Science Award in the Humanitarian Duty category. Together with Dr. Tom Baden, she is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of TReND in Africa, a non-profit organisation to foster university research and education on the African continent.

Lars Schwabe (DE), Jerry Chen (CH), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2016

The 2016 FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize is equally shared between Lars Schwabe (University of Hamburg, Germany) and Jerry Chen (University of Zurich, Switzerland).

Having obtained his PhD in 2008 at the University of Trier and postdoctoral training at the Ruhr-University Bochum and McGill University, Lars Schwabe is professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Hamburg.

His research focus is at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, psychology and endocrinology, and his research is primarily directed at the question how stressful experiences shape our memories and imprints changes in the contribution of anatomically and functionally distinct memory systems to behaviour.

Lars Schwabe is author of more than 50 peer-reviewed publications in leading neuroscience and psychology journals and is recipient of several scientific awards for his research. Additionally, he was recently selected as a scholar of the recently established FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence.

With a thesis investigating the basis for structural and synaptic plasticity of inhibitory circuits in the adult cortex, Jerry Chen obtained his PhD in 2010 in the Department of Biology at MIT under Prof. Elly Nedivi.   Funded by a NSF International Research Fellowship Program, Dr. Chen currently holds a position as post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Fritjof Helmchen in the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich.

His research addresses the function of local and long-range cortical circuits in the neocortex during sensory-guided decision making by combining in vivo imaging technology with molecular and genetic tools in the awake-behaving animal. Dr. Chen hopes to bridge levels of understanding for how behaviour is generated in the central nervous system, from individual genes up to the entire brain.

Jerry Chen has published his research in very high impact journals including Nature, Science, Nature Neuroscience, and Neuron. He currently serves as a member of the Next Generation Leaders Advisory Council at the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

The FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize is sponsored by Wiley (publisher of EJN) and will be presented to Prof. Schwabe and Dr. Chen at the FENS Forum 2016 in Copenhagen (2 – 6 July, 2016)

Emre Yaksi (BE), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2014

The 2014 FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize was presented to Dr. Emre Yaksi, director at Neuroelectronics Research Flanders in Leuven, Belgium.

What are the fundamental principles underlying the functioning of the brain? Neuroscientists have tackled various parts of this question in isolated neurons, cell cultures and brain slices. Yet the brain is a complex system that functions as a whole. It is therefore crucial to develop novel technologies to monitor the activity, to measure the connectivity and to perturb functional elements of neural circuits, in vivo.
Throughout his career, Dr. Emre Yaksi developed and used optical, electrophysiological and genetic tools for studying neural computation in small genetically tractable animals, namely fruitfly and zebrafish. The unique combination of these novel technologies enables neuroscientists to design innovative experiments to study neural circuits, which were unthinkable only a few years ago. Together with his team, Dr. Yaksi explores the function and the architecture of neural circuits involved in one of the least studied sensory modalities; the chemical senses. The major goals of his laboratory is to investigate 1)how chemosensory information is integrated and processed to generate behavior, 2) how do the components of neural circuits interact with each other and the sensory world, 3)what functional rules govern the assembly of neural circuits in developing or adult brains. Dr. Emre Yaksi is director at NERF (Neuroelectronics Research Flanders, Leuven-Belgium), a new research institute (founded by VIB, imec, KULeuven) that is dedicated to study the function of brain circuits. He was born on March 13, 1978 in Turkey. He received his B.Sc. (2001) in Molecular Biology at Middle East Technical University, Ankara-Turkey. He obtained his PhD (2007) in the laboratory of Dr. Rainer Friedrich at Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg-Germany. He worked as a post-doctoral fellow (2007-2010) in Dr. Rachel Wilson’s laboratory at Harvard Medical School, Boston-USA. He leads his research team at NERF since December 2010 and appointed as an assistant professor at KU Leuven since October 2011.

The FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize was presented at the 2014 FENS Forum in Milan (July 5 - 9, 2014).

Oscar Marín (ES), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2012

The 2012 Young Investigator Award will be presented to Oscar Marín, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology at the Neuroscience Institute, joint centre of the Spanish research Council (CSIC) and the Miguel Hernandez University (UMH). Oscar Marín is a leading researcher in the field of cortical development. He has made several seminal discoveries about the specification, migration, and functional integration of GABAergic interneurons in the neocortex during ontogeny. His research also focuses on harnessing neuronal progenitors derived from the ganglionic eminence for neuron-replacement therapies.

Oscar Marín is a Founding member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council and has contributed tremendously to the success of ERC grants, which are among the most prestigious research grants of the EU.

Oscar Marín has made important contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms controlling the development of the cerebral cortex, with a focus on cortical interneurons. In particular, work from his laboratory has contributed to elucidate some of the mechanisms underlying the generation of neuronal diversity in the cerebral cortex, as well as the migration of cortical interneurons. In addition, although his research primarily aims at understanding basic mechanisms of development, he has focused much of his work on elucidating the role of schizophrenia susceptibility genes in the formation of specific neuronal circuits in the cerebral cortex.

Oscar Marín graduated in Biological Sciences from the Universidad Complutense (Madrid, Spain) in 1993, where he also obtained his Doctoral Degree in 1997 (Extraordinary award and European mention). He subsequently joined the University of California in San Francisco as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of John L. R. Rubenstein. In 2003, he took a group leader position at the Instituto de Neurociencias in Alicante (Spain), a joint centre of the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) and the Miguel Hernández University (UMH). He is currently a CSIC Research Professor and serves in several editorial boards, including the Board of Reviewing Editors at Science. Oscar Marín was also selected as one of the 22 founding members of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (, where he served until 2010. In addition to the FENS-EJN Award, he has recently received the Banco Sabadell Award for Biomedical Research (2008) and the Jaime I Research Award on Basic Science (2011).

The FENS-EJN Award is sponsored by Wiley-Blackwell (publishers of EJN). It will be presented at the 2012 FENS Forum in Barcelona (July 14-18, 2012).

Pierre Paoletti (FR), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2010

In 2010, the Award was given to Pierre Paoletti, Directeur de Recherche at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) and Group Leader in the Biology Institute of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, France.

Pierre Paoletti has made major contributions to our understanding of the molecular determinants responsible for the functional diversity of NMDA receptors, a class of glutamate-gated ion channels that play central roles in brain physiology and pathology. In particular, Pierre Paoletti and his colleagues identified key regions in NR2 subunits that control the subunit-specific gating and pharmacological profile of NMDA receptors, revealing important information about how the receptors are regulated.

Pierre Paoletti and his colleagues are now exploiting these results regarding basic molecular mechanisms to develop original tools, including genetically modified mice, to study specific NMDA receptor functions in their native synaptic environment. Pierre Paoletti graduated from the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris and started a PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Neuroscience with Prof. Philippe Ascher in the Neurobiology Laboratory at the ENS in 1992. Following the award of his PhD in 1996, Pierre Paoletti joined the laboratory of Prof. Steve Siegelbaum at Columbia University in New York City (USA) and was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. There he studied the gating mechanisms of cyclic-nucleotide-gated channels, a class of ion channels that are central to sensory transduction. In 1999, Pierre Paoletti returned to France to work with Dr. Jacques Neyton and was appointed Chargé de Recherche at INSERM. A few years later he started his own research group in the Biology Department of ENS in Paris on the structure and function of NMDA receptors. In 2007, Pierre Paoletti became Directeur de Recherche at INSERM.

The FENS-EJN 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.

Thomas Klausberger (UK), FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2008

This year's recipient of the FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize is Dr. Thomas Klausberger, Senior Scientist at the Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit of the Medical Research Council in Oxford, UK.

Thomas Klausberger received the FENS EJN Young Investigator Prize for his major contributions to our understanding of the role of the GABAergic interneuronal networks to the generation and control of cortical oscillations.
In his current research he plans to widen his interest from the hippocampus to the medial prefrontal cortex and to determine the activity of identified neurons in relation to behaviour including working memory and decision making. This innovative and informative line of cortical research will continue to provide fascinating discoveries.

Dr. Thomas Klausberger graduated in Biochemistry at the University of Vienna, Austria, in 1998. He stayed in Vienna to study the assembly of GABAA receptors with Prof. Werner Sieghart at the Brain Research Institute.
Following the award of his PhD in 2000, Thomas Klausberger joined the group of Prof. Peter Somogyi at the MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit in March 2001 funded by an Erwin-Schroedinger-Felloship of the Austrian Science Fund, and was appointed as an MRC Research Scientist in April 2002. In October 2003 he became MRC Investigator Scientist and has been elected as a Junior Research Fellow at St. John's College in October 2004. In 2005 Thomas received the "Otto Loewi Prize" sponsored by GlaxoSmtithKline and awarded by the Austrian Neuroscience Association and the Krieg Cortical Explorer Award awarded by the Cajal Club at the SFN2005 meeting in Washington DC. In September 2006 Thomas became MRC Senior Scientist and is now leading his own research group.

The FENS-EJN Young Investigator Prize 2008 will be presented in Geneva during the Forum of European Neuroscience 2008 (July 12 - 16, 2008). The prize winner will give a special lecture at the meeting.