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NINDS Announces New Javits Neuroscience Investigator Awardees

For release: Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Four prominent investigators were recently awarded the prestigious Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences, which provides for up to seven years of research funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

"The Javits Award is a jewel in a neuroscientist’s career. It gives outstanding scientists an incredible opportunity to explore first-rate science in far greater detail than any other grant mechanism," said Story C. Landis, Ph.D., NINDS director, in announcing the awards.

Authorized by the United States Congress in 1983, the award honors the late U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javits (R-NY), who was a strong advocate for research on a variety of neurological disorders. Senator Javits suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disabling neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The award is given to individual investigators who have demonstrated exceptional scientific excellence and productivity in research supported by the NINDS and who are expected to conduct innovative research over the next 7 years. It provides guaranteed funding for 4 years, after which 3 additional years may be awarded. Investigators are nominated by either NINDS staff or members of the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council, from a pool of competing applicants during a grants cycle. The Council must approve each recommendation, with final selection being made by the NINDS Director.

Recipients of the Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences are:

Don W. Cleveland, Ph.D., Professor, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Departments of Medicine and Neuroscience, University of California, San Diego.

The radial growth of axons is extremely important to nerve cell function and helps to determine the velocity of electrical signal conduction. An essential feature of this process occurs in connection with myelination and involves neurofilament proteins (threadlike connections of cells that help transmit signals). This award will allow Dr. Cleveland to further research and potentially identify the process that brings about radial axonal growth of motor neurons. The research will also identify mechanisms through which mutations in the ALS-linked enzyme superoxide dismutase 1 trigger cell toxicity and cause selective cell death in motor and non-motor neurons.

David A. McCormick, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine.

Dr. McCormick studies the cerebral cortex and the delicate balance of inhibition and excitation that allows it to perform normal functions, including activity associated with working memory and attention. He hopes to reveal the cellular mechanisms of these essential cortical functions and how the cerebral cortex performs behavioral tasks without causing epileptic seizures. Research topics of this Javits Award include the role of particular ion currents in maintaining the balance of excitation and inhibition and how inhibition affects the precise timing of nerve impulses. Dr. McCormick’s work will contribute to basic knowledge about the nature of cortical activity and increase understanding of seizures and epilepsy.

Wade G. Regehr, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School.

During behavioral tasks, synapses undergo profound changes in strength (called short-term plasticity) as neurons fire at high frequencies and often in bursts. This short-term plasticity has many potential functional roles, including rapid computation, sensory adaptation, and increased information transfer. The Javits Award will allow Dr. Regehr to research the individual mechanisms and relationships of multiple forms of short-term plasticity. He will study, in rodent brain slices, how different types of synapses function and interact under physiological conditions and their role in synaptic plasticity. Study results will provide greater detail about factors that control the strength of central synapses, which is relevant to understanding such complex neurological disorders as epilepsy, schizophrenia, and depression.

Ivan Soltesz, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, University of California, Irvine.

Many people develop seizures following a head injury, but the mechanisms underlying the emergence of post-traumatic epilepsy are poorly understood. Dr. Soltesz has previously shown that neuronal excitability increases within specific signaling loops of the epilepsy-prone limbic system after head injury. He will now test the hypothesis that neuronal hyperexcitability following head trauma is caused by impaired inhibition to the dendrites of specific brain cells in selectively injured signaling loops. New tests may show the relative importance of certain cellular and synaptic alterations to developing trauma-induced hyperexcitability. Findings may lead to novel antiepileptic treatment strategies.

The NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health within the Department of Health and Human Services and is the nation’s primary supporter of biomedical research on the brain and nervous system. More information about the NINDS and its research programs may be found at

Last Modified January 31, 2007