News Release

Prize winner’s research reveals how aggressive motivation is regulated in the brain

Grant and Award Announcement

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Ann Kennedy is the winner of the 2022 Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology for research that provides new insight into aggression and how aggressive motivation is regulated by the brain.

“Kennedy’s essay describes how neuronal activity in hypothalamic nuclei can finely modulate animal behavior. This seems to be working less like an all-or-nothing switch and more like a controller that can be tuned up or down”.

Although it can take many forms, aggression exists in many animal species. But engaging in a fight can be costly to an individual as even the winners can walk away with serious injuries. Thus, it is common – and safer – to begin a conflict with threat displays and posturing, and attack only if necessary. This type of aggressive arousal is an archetypal motivational state that exhibits persistence and graded intensity – it builds and maintains until the threat or the need to intimidate is gone. However, how this is accomplished in the brain is unknown. Previous research has shown that the ventrolateral portion of the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMHvl) is implicated in control of aggression in mice.

“There's been decades of work in neuroscience studying sensory processing or motor actions, but we know much less about what happens in between how we decide what to do about the world we encounter,” said Kennedy, an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

To better understand how this works, Kennedy and her colleagues used head-mounted miniaturized microendoscopes to characterize the activity of neurons in this region as mice freely interacted. Although the researchers found that activity in these cells was only weakly correlated with when mice fight, the researchers revealed that a small population of neurons were persistently active over the duration of a social encounter with modest fluctuation in the intensity of their activity as animals interacted in different ways.

When this patterning was weak, mice investigated or ignored one another, but as the pattern grew, so did aggressive posturing, including actions like dominance mounting. When it saturated, animals began to exhibit outright attacks. Kennedy suggests that this signal reflects a level of aggressive motivation and argues that the scalable and persistent activity within the VMHvl is a mechanism for setting an animal’s motivational state.

“Medically, disorders of motivation appear in many neuropsychiatric disorders such as anorexia, depression, and generalized anxiety,” said Kennedy. “Conceptually, it also gives us a new/different way of thinking about how the brain keeps track of the high-level motivations that shape our moment-to-moment behavior. It paints a picture of the brain as a hierarchical controller, with hypothalamic regions setting overall motivations which other regions then act upon to generate specific motivated actions.”

The Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology recognizes the increasingly active and important role of neurobiology in advancing our understanding of the functioning of the brain and the nervous system. The winner receives $25,000 and publication of their essay in the November 4 issue of Science.

“Since 2002 Eppendorf has partnered with the prestigious journal Science to create what the Prize has become today, one of the leading awards for young scientists in neurobiological research,” stated Eva van Pelt, Co-CEO of Eppendorf SE. “Congratulations to Kennedy on her fantastic achievement in winning this year’s prize.”

2022 Finalists:

Kevin Guttenplan for his essay, “Why do neurons die: astrocytes emerge as key mediators of neurodegeneration.” Guttenplan received his undergraduate degree in Neuroscience and Mathematics from Pomona College and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, where he worked in the laboratories of B. Barres and A. Gitler, studying the role of astrocytes in disease and injuries of the nervous system. He is now a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of M. Freeman in the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health and Science University, studying the role of astrocytes in neuronal circuits.

Filipa Cardoso for her essay, “The brain fat connection: type 2 innate lymphoid cells shape metabolism through a brain-body circuit.” Filipa Cardoso received her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Master’s degree in Health Sciences from Universidade do Minho where she was introduced to the field of immunology, working in the immune response to tuberculosis infection and to colitis models. After her Master’s, she moved for a Ph.D. in H. Veiga-Fernandes's laboratory to develop research in how the nervous and the immune systems interact to control metabolism. After completing her Ph.D., Filipa joined a biopharmaceutical company, LIMM Therapeutics, which stemmed from the Veiga-Fernandes laboratory. Cardoso’s current research strives to translate the knowledge obtained from basic research to clinical application by harnessing the molecular crosstalk between neuronal and innate lymphoid cells within peripheral tissues.  

About Science/AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational MedicineScience Signaling; a digital, open-access journal, Science AdvancesScience Immunology; and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement and more.

About Eppendorf

Eppendorf is a leading life science company that develops and sells instruments, consumables, and services for liquid handling, sample handling, and cell handling in laboratories worldwide. Its product range includes pipettes and automated pipetting systems, dispensers, centrifuges, mixers, spectrometers, and DNA amplification equipment as well as ultra-low temperature freezers, fermenters, bioreactors, CO2 incubators, shakers, and cell manipulation systems. Consumables such as pipette tips, test tubes, microplates, and single-use bioreactor vessels complement the range of highest-quality premium products. As digital solution, Eppendorf is developing new business models and transforming the Eppendorf portfolio to meet Industry 4.0 requirements. Eppendorf products are most broadly used in academic and commercial research laboratories, e.g., in companies from the pharmaceutical and biotechnological as well as the chemical and food industries. They are also aimed at clinical and environmental analysis laboratories, forensics, and at industrial laboratories performing process analysis, production, and quality assurance. Eppendorf was founded in Hamburg, Germany in 1945 and has about 5,000 employees worldwide. The company has subsidiaries in 26 countries and is represented in all other markets by distributors.

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