Columbia’s Franck Polleux Wins Prize for Outstanding Contributions to Neuroscience

Award recognizes Dr. Polleux’s groundbreaking research to map the brain’s wiring, lending insight into human cognition and our susceptibility to disease.

NEW YORK, May 18, 2016 — Franck Polleux, PhD, a neuroscientist and principal investigator at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, has received the prestigious 2015 Prix Roger de Spoelberch. The award, which amounts to €750,000 ($850,000), recognizes one European scientist each year for pioneering work in the field of neuroscience.

Dr. Polleux has devoted his career to understanding how our brains developed their extraordinary capacity for complex thinking. He has spent the past 15 years identifying how the billions of connections between cells form in the mammalian brain. Dr. Polleux’s research has uncovered some of the genetic mechanisms that spur the assembly of these connections, which underlie some of the human brain’s enhanced cognitive abilities, such as creativity and language.

“It is a true honor to receive this prize from the Fondation Roger De Spoelberch,” said Dr. Polleux, who is also a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University Medical Center. “The award recognizes more than a decade of work not only by myself but by many members of my laboratory. This prize provides a unique opportunity to continue exploring the cellular and molecular mechanisms that guide the development, maintenance and evolution of brain connectivity.”

While Dr. Polleux has long explored the mechanisms behind brain development and more recently, brain evolution, he has added another focus: diseases of the brain. This recent foray into disease research is a prime example of the often unexpected and powerful ways in which basic science can shed light on disease.

For example, Dr. Polleux’s foundational work has led to startling insights into Alzheimer’s disease. Several years ago, while working to identify genes responsible for the maintenance of brain-cell connections (known as synapses) in the adult brain, he and his team stumbled upon the protein AMPK. Previous research had suggested that this AMPK activity was higher in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. However, its role in Alzheimer’s disease progression was unknown.

“In experiments with mice, we found that amyloid beta abnormally boosts AMPK activity in the brain,” said Dr. Polleux. “Further analysis revealed that this abnormally increased AMPK activity is directly tied to the loss of synapses that characterizes the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

These findings have opened up fresh avenues of Alzheimer’s research. They suggest an entirely new therapeutic focus — AMPK activity — for treating, or even preventing, the disease’s harmful effects. At present, Dr. Polleux is continuing to investigate this line of research and dissect the chain of events in the brain that leads to overactive AMPK and, ultimately, Alzheimer’s.

The Fondation Roger de Spoelberch is based in Geneva and is dedicated to funding research programs within the brain sciences. The award was presented to Dr. Polleux in a special ceremony on April 28, 2016 in Lyon, France. A native of Lyon, Dr. Polleux earned his PhD in neuroscience from Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1.

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About the Zuckerman Institute
Grasping the implications for the health of the brain, mind, and nervous system is perhaps the greatest challenge facing 21st-century science. To lead the way, Columbia University has established a comprehensive institute for the pursuit of interdisciplinary and collaborative research in brain science. Building on the University's distinguished history in the study and treatment of the brain, the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute will bring together 1,000 scientists in a single state-of-the-art engine of discovery — based at the Jerome L. Greene Science Center — now rising on the University’s new Manhattanville campus. It will form the hub of an even larger collaborative network of academics stretching across all disciplines — including the arts, economics, law, and medicine — and campuses, from Columbia University Medical Center to Morningside Heights and beyond.

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education; and patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast.

The Fondation Roger de Spoelberch is based in Geneva and supports research in the field of neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases. The Roger De Spoelberch prize was established in 2009 to award research and assistance for neurodegenerative diseases in general and psychiatric disorders seriously altering human behavior, such as schizophrenia