June 15, 2006
La Jolla, CA – Dr. Martyn Goulding, an associate professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has been awarded the prestigious Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences for his groundbreaking research on the neural circuitry that coordinates walking movements.
Goulding and his research team will receive $2.1 million over seven years from the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to continue their work on the underpinnings of locomotion.
A member of the Salk faculty since 1993, Goulding pioneered the use of mouse genetics in combination with classical electrophysiological studies to reveal the identity and assign specific functions to neural networks in the spinal cord. His work led to a paradigm shift in spinal cord physiology and changed the way scientists study neural circuits in the spinal cord.
Goulding is particularly interested in how interneurons are generated in the embryonic spinal cord. Interneurons are specialized nerve cells that coordinate and control the activity of motor neurons, which cause muscles to contract.
The muscle contractions that allow us to move exhibit certain rhythmic properties. It had been known for some time that a central pattern generator (CPG) – specialized groups of neurons in the spinal cord – functions as the control and command center for these rhythmic movements. But with the identity of these neurons unknown, the CPG was akin to a black box.
Using the full force of mouse genetics, Goulding traced and characterized the spinal interneurons that coordinate the left-right locomotor activity that allows us to walk without toppling over. More recently, he identified an important circuit in the spinal cord that controls the speed with which our leg muscles contract and relax.
Knowing which circuits are important and understanding how they control the essential aspects of walking will help scientist design regenerative treatments or implants that restore or activate these pathways.
A native of New Zealand, Goulding, 47, received his doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Auckland. After completing post-doctoral research studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, and a short sojourn at the University of London, England, he was recruited to the Salk Institute in La Jolla.
Authorized by the United States Congress for research in the neurosciences, the Javits Award is named in honor of the late Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, who, before his death in 1986, suffered from the degenerative neurological disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. The senator was a strong advocate for research into a variety of disorders of the brain and nervous system.
The Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award is a merit award that is given to distinguished investigators who have a record of substantial contributions on the “cutting edge” of neurobiology and who can be expected to be highly productive for the next seven years.
Internationally renowned for its groundbreaking basic research in the biological sciences, the Salk Institute was founded in 1960 by Dr. Jonas Salk, five years after he developed the first safe and effective vaccine against polio. The Institute’s 59 faculty members are scientific leaders in the fields of molecular biology, neurosciences and plant biology. For more information about the Salk Institute, visit www.salk.edu.