Eve Marder, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University, is the recipient of the 2013 Neuroscience Prize of The Gruber Foundation. Marder is being honored with this prestigious international award for her pioneering contributions to the understanding of neural circuits, particularly how the properties and dynamics of neural circuits give rise to specific behaviors.
The award will be presented to Marder in San Diego on Nov. 10 at the 43rd annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
"Eve Marder has made a number of remarkable and groundbreaking discoveries that have fundamentally changed our understanding of how neural circuits operate and produce behavior," says Carol Barnes, chair of the Selection Advisory Board to the Neuroscience Prize. "She has also been an exceptional leader outside the laboratory, working tirelessly to bring people together to improve scientific research, policy, and education."
Marder's seminal discoveries about neural circuits have arisen from her research on a very small nervous system, the stomatogastric ganglion (STG) of lobsters and crabs. The STG system controls the rhythmic muscle contractions that grind and move food through the crustaceans' gut, and is considered similar to the neural circuits that control breathing and other rhythmic functions in humans. Early in her career, Marder revealed that the STG was not "hard-wired" to produce a single pattern of output, but that it was a remarkably plastic circuitry that could change both its parameters and function in response to various neuromodulators while still maintaining its morphologic connectivity. This discovery marked a paradigm shift in how scientists viewed the architecture and function of neural circuits, including those in the human brain. It revolutionized the study of neuromodulators.
Marder is also recognized for helping to pioneer the expansion of theoretical neuroscience, which uses computational and mathematical tools to quantify what nervous systems do and how they operate. She collaboratively developed a major experimental tool known as the dynamic clamp, which allows scientists to introduce mathematically modeled synaptic or other conductances into biological neurons. The device is now used worldwide for the study of neural systems at the cellular and circuitry levels.
More recently, Marder's research has focused on how neural circuits maintain stability, or homeostasis, over long periods of time despite constantly reconfiguring themselves. This research has broad implications for the study of many neurological diseases linked to dysfunctional neural circuitry, such as schizophrenia, depression, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain.
"So much of what we know about the complexity and flexibility of the mechanisms used by neural circuits to impact behavior can be traced directly back to Marder's landmark research," says Erwin Neher, Nobel Laureate and member of the Selection Advisory Board to the Neuroscience Prize. "She has had a tremendous impact across the field of neuroscience, and is very much deserving of this award."