Friedrich Bonhoeffer emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Corey Goodman, a founding partner of venBio Partners, and Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the president of Stanford University will share the $500,000 prize for their groundbreaking work in detailing and describing the molecular mechanisms that guide developing axons to their targets, a key step in the formation of neural circuits.
In the 1970s and '80s, Bonhoeffer developed innovative and elegant assays that made it possible to isolate the molecular cues enabling the development of an orderly projection from the eye into the brain, a so-called topographic map. Using these assays, Bonhoeffer demonstrated — unexpectedly, at the time — that guidance is driven not only by attractive but also repellent signals. He went on to identify key repellent molecules and other guidance mechanisms. Using insects as models, Goodman pioneered the use of genetic screens, identifying different families of signals, their receptors, and regulators that guide growth cones across specific choice points to their targets. And in his groundbreaking research, Tessier-Lavigne identified multiple guidance mechanisms in mammals and showed how they collaborate to “wire up” the spinal cord. Together, the parallel and often collaborative work of Goodman and Tessier-Lavigne helped underscore that the attractive and repellent molecules guiding axons during development are highly conserved throughout the animal kingdom, a transformative discovery at the time.
"Taken together, the work of these three scientists comprises one of the greatest success stories in developmental neuroscience," said Joshua Sanes, professor of molecular and cellular biology and director of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University and a member of the prize’s selection advisory board. "It's a great honor to be awarding them the 2020 Gruber Neuroscience Prize."