March 22, 2010

Gatsby Charitable Foundation awards $4 million to Salk-UC San Diego consortium to study brain circuitry

Salk News

Gatsby Charitable Foundation awards $4 million to Salk-UC San Diego consortium to study brain circuitry

LA JOLLA—A new consortium of four research teams from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of California, San Diego has been selected by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, based in the United Kingdom, to receive a $4 million grant over five years to study neuronal circuits underlying higher brain function.

The teams headed by Salk researchers Edward M. Callaway, Ph.D., and John H. Reynolds, Ph.D., and UC San Diego professors Anirvan Ghosh, Ph.D., and Massimo Scanziani, Ph.D., look forward to formalizing a longstanding relationship developed through overlapping research interests and facilitated by geographical proximity.

“The grant from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation creates a tremendous opportunity to work closer together than ever before,” says Callaway, of the Salk Institute. “It allows us to capitalize on the unique strengths we have as a team.”

Higher brain functions, such as visual perception and attention, are the result of the coordinated activity of neurons in the cerebral cortex. But a lack of detailed knowledge of how different elements and cell types interact to give rise to sensations and thought has limited understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie cortical functions.

The collaborating teams’ efforts will focus on developing and using genetic tools that will allow them to manipulate specific cell types in the brain to tease apart their contributions to higher order brain function.

“The human brain with its unrivaled complexity is biology’s last frontier,” says UC San Diego researcher Ghosh. “Thanks to the support of the Gatsby Foundation, we expect to greatly expand the understanding of brain circuitry. This will in turn allow us to explore the brain’s ability to adapt and rewire, as well as its remarkable capacity to learn and remember.”

Adds Callaway: “This collaborative study has the potential to provide us with exciting insight into how the brain makes us who we are.”

  • Edward M. Callaway, Ph.D., a professor in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratories at the Salk Institute, studies the organization and function of neural circuits in the visual cortex to better understand how specific neural components contribute to the computations that give rise to visual perception and to elucidate the basic neural mechanisms that underlie cortical function.
  • Anirvan Ghosh, Ph.D., a professor in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences and chair of the Division’s Neurobiology section, is interested in understanding the mechanisms that allow the developing brain to self-organize into functional circuits.
  • John H. Reynolds, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratories at the Salk Institute seeks to understand the fundamental nature of the computations that are carried out by the neocortex, including the computations that enable us to attend to sensory stimuli, and to understand how and why these computations fail in brain disease.
  • Massimo Scanziani, Ph.D., a professor in the UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences’ section of Neurobiology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, studies the mechanisms by which elementary circuits operate in the brain. His work aims to reveal the function and logic by which basic building blocks of cortical architecture orchestrate cortical activity, which gives rise to all thought and sensation.

About the Gatsby Charitable Foundation
Established in 1967 by noted philanthropist Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation is a London-based, endowed grant-making trust. Set up to provide funding for charitable causes, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation currently focuses on plant science, neuroscience, technical education, mental health in the criminal justice system, environmentally sustainable development and poverty alleviation in developing countries as well as the arts. Learn more at

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

About UC San Diego

Founded in 1960, the University of California, San Diego is ranked the best value public university in California by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and the 7th best public university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Named the “hottest” institution to study science by Newsweek, UC San Diego is one of the nation’s most accomplished research universities, widely acknowledged for its local impact, national influence and global reach. Renowned for its collaborative, diverse and cross-disciplinary ethos that transcends traditional boundaries in science, arts and the humanities, the university attracts stellar faculty, students and staff. For more information, please visit

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