Amy Arnsten Receives the Goldman-Rakic Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience


(Originally published by the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale University)

October 23, 2015

(Image: Yale University)

Yale’s Amy F.T. Arnsten has been named 2015 recipient of the The Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience, an award named for Arnsten’s former mentor at Yale, Patricia Goldman-Rakic.

Arnsten, professor of neurobiology at the Yale School of Medicine and a founding member of Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale, will receive the award Oct. 23 at the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation’s national awards dinner in New York.

Arnsten was honored for her research into the physiology and function of the prefrontal association cortex, an area of the brain pioneered by Yale’s Goldman-Rakic, who was struck and killed by an automobile in 2003 in Hamden, Connecticut.

“It is an extraordinary privilege for me to receive the Goldman-Rakic Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience, which honors the person who has been the inspiration for my own life’s work,” Arnsten said. “Patricia Goldman-Rakic transformed the field of neuroscience and illuminated a path for all of us to study the biological mechanisms underlying mental illness.”

Arnsten’s own research has revealed the unique molecular mechanisms that govern our highest-order brain circuits in the prefrontal cortex, leading to new treatments for cognitive disorders. These treatments include guanfacine (IntunivTM), approved by the FDA for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and also used off-label to treat a broad spectrum of prefrontal disorders. Her research has also uncovered how to protect the prefrontal cortex from stress, work that has spurred the use of prazosin to treat patients, veterans and active duty soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Patricia Goldman-Rakic transformed the field of neuroscience and illuminated a path for all of us to study the biological mechanisms underlying mental illness."—Amy Arnsten

In 2013, Arnsten received a Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health in support of “visionary investigators” pursuing highly creative biomedical research projects.

The Kavli Institute for Neuroscience annually commemorates Patricia Goldman-Rakic by welcoming the Prize-winner to Yale as a guest and lecturer.

Fred Kavli, an engineer and businessman, founded the Institute in 2004 to support multidisciplinary research into the structure and function of the cerebral cortex. (The Kavli Foundation has now endowed 20 Institutes focused on basic research in astrophysics, theoretical physics, nanoscience and neuroscience.) He was fascinated by how the brain creates thought, allowing us to ponder the vastness of the Universe, as astrophysicists do, or the nature of the smallest particles, as nanoscientists do. This led him to the work of Patricia Goldman-Rakic, who discovered the microcircuits in the prefrontal cortex that allow the brain to generate neural representations of information in the absence of sensory stimulation. This ability is the foundation of abstract thought, such as conceptions about the Universe or the nano-scale world.

Arnsten has built on Goldman-Rakic’s findings to show that these prefrontal cortical microcircuits are profoundly different at the molecular level than those elsewhere in the brain, lending us our astounding mental flexibility but also our mental vulnerability.

Previous recipients of the Goldman-Rakic Prize include Richard Huganir, co-director of the new Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at Johns Hopkins University (2014), Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University, and Brenda Milner of McGill University and Marcus Raichle of Washington University, both of whom were subsequently awarded the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience (2014).

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. Arnsten was among five scientists honored by the foundation.Recipients were selected by the Foundation’s Scientific Council, which comprises 162 leading experts across disciplines in brain and behavior research, including two Nobel laureates; four former directors of the NIMH; 13 members of the National Academy of Sciences; 21 chairs of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Departments at leading medical institutions; and 47 members of the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine.


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