1983 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Molecular approaches to memory

Eric Kandel
Dr. Kandel performed the first intracellular recordings of individual nerve cells in the portion of the brain believed to govern memory. Seeking a better model to study the direct relationship between nerve cells and the processes of learning, Dr. Kandel turned to the Mediterranean sea snail, Aplysia, whose nerve cells are especially large and well-suited to laboratory studies.

Dr. Kandel and his associates elucidated the neural circuitry of Aplysia's defensive withdrawal reflex, the first definition of a complete pathway from stimulus through neural interconnections to behavior. He discovered how this reflex could be altered by three fundamental forms of learning—habituation, sensitization, and classical conditioning—and how individual nerve cells are altered by learning. In later experiments at the molecular level, Dr. Kandel showed how these forms of learning are interrelated.

Dr. Kandel has not only enriched scientific understanding of the biological mechanisms that underlie mental activity; he has also given other investigators a practical model from which a wealth of new information about the interplay of mind and brain will be derived. Since the chemical and neural properties of all animals are strikingly similar, his work in Aplysia holds hope for more refined and effective treatment of learning disorders, memory impairment, and many psychiatric illnesses.

To Dr. Kandel, for his brilliant application of cell biology techniques to the study of behavior, revealing the mechanisms underlying learning and memory, this 1983 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.

Vernon Mountcastle
In the 1950s, Dr. Mountcastle demonstrated, for the first time, how the sensation of touch is received in the brain and abstracted into perception. Dr. Mountcastle and his colleagues found that the nerve cells of the sensory cortex are arranged in vertical columns, extending from the surface of the cortex down to its depths. The cells in an individual column receive information from a specific point on the skin, from either superficial or deep-pressure receptors. He discovered that the somatosensory nerve cells along the column responded to degrees of touch-pressure stimulation in different ways, making it possible for the brain to calculate the nature of the stimulating object. As part of this research, Dr. Mountcastle went on from this pioneering step to clarify the roles of various portions of the brain and sensory integration so as to trace every step in the neural coding of sensation from skin to its final target in the cerebral cortex.

Because he was the first investigator to go beyond the simple observation, description, and classification of brain functions, and to seek the fundamental question, "How does the brain process and perceive the information gathered by the senses," Dr. Mountcastle is the intellectual progenitor of the many researchers at work in neuroscience today.

To Dr. Mountcastle, for his profoundly original discoveries which illuminated the brain's ability to perceive and organize information, and to translate sensory impulses into behavior, this 1983 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.