Presidents National Medal of Science
Biological Sciences 2001
Ann M. Graybiel
Graybiel has revolutionized our understanding of the functional anatomy and physiology of the brain. She and her group made the pioneering discovery of the fundamental architecture of the large forebrain region known as the basal ganglia, and demonstrated a mechanism of directed neurochemical control of complex brain circuits. Her work provides an understanding of how activity states of the forebrain are controlled and modulated during motor activity, procedural learning and cognition. The work has major clinical relevance for disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, for neuro-psychiatric disorders such as Tourette syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and major depression. Graybiel's work directly addresses the issue of how humans can make and break habits, an issue of fundamental importance in human behavior.
In her more recent studies, Graybiel has discovered that the long-term changes in gene expression patterns in the basal ganglia are predictive of the development of behavioral stereotypes in the treated animals. At the same time, they are tracking the changes in neural signaling that occur during behavioral learning. This work represents a breakthrough in bringing together the seemingly separate fields of gene regulation, neurophysiology and behavioral observation.