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Bristol neuroscientist honoured with the world’s largest prize for ground-breaking brain research

Professor Graham Collingridge

Press release issued: 1 March 2016

A University of Bristol professor is one of three neuroscientists who today won the world’s most valuable prize for brain research, for their outstanding work on the mechanisms of memory.

Professor Graham Collingridge from the University of Bristol, Professor Tim Bliss of University College London, and Professor Richard Morris from the University of Edinburgh, are this year’s winners of The Brain Prize, which is regarded as the most prestigious award in neuroscience.

Worth one million Euros, The Brain Prize is awarded annually by the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation in Denmark. It recognises one or more scientists who have distinguished themselves by an outstanding contribution to neuroscience.  

The research by Professors Collingridge, Bliss and Morris focused on a brain mechanism known as ‘Long-Term Potentiation’ (LTP), which underpins the life-long plasticity of the brain.  Their discoveries have revolutionised our understanding of how memories are formed, retained and lost.

The three neuroscientists have independently and collectively shown how the connections – the synapses – between brain cells in the hippocampus (a structure vital for the formation of new memories) can be strengthened through repeated stimulation. LTP is so-called because it can persist indefinitely. Their work has revealed some of the basic mechanisms behind the phenomenon and has shown that LTP is the basis for our ability to learn and remember.

Sir Colin Blakemore, chairman of the selection committee said: ‘Memory is at the heart of human experience. This year’s winners, through their ground-breaking research, have transformed our understanding of memory and learning, and the devastating effects of failing memory.’

Without the capacity to store information in our brains, we could not remember our past and would be incapable of planning our future. Without memory, we could not recognise other people, find our way around in the world or make decisions based on past evidence. We could not learn language, ride a bicycle, drive a car, or use a smart phone.  There could be no education, no literature or art.

Professor Collingridge, who works at the University of Bristol School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, said: ‘I am delighted to share this award.  Working on the cellular mechanisms of learning and memory has been both richly challenging and intensely rewarding for me. I am really excited about now translating discoveries about LTP into new treatments for dementia.’

The strength of the connections between neurons in the brain – the synapses – can change in response to experience. LTP exemplifies this inherent plasticity, which underlies the brain’s remarkable capacity to reorganise itself, at least to some extent, after damage such as a stroke or after the loss of normal input, as in blindness.

Conversely, deficits and disorders in the capacity to alter synaptic strength appear to be involved in many brain-related conditions affecting millions of people around the world, including autism, schizophrenia, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, epilepsy and addiction.  New and emerging knowledge of the role of LTP will help guide the way to improving treatments.

Professor Collingridge developed and applied techniques to identify several of the key molecules responsible for LTP. He is particularly known for discovering the role of the so-called NMDA receptor in the induction of LTP.  The NMDA receptor is a protein in the brain that is important for communication amongst nerve cells.

Professors Bliss, Collingridge and Morris will share the prize of one million Euros, which will be presented to them at a ceremony on July 1 in Copenhagen by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.

The award to three UK neuroscientists testifies to the strong and sustained support that the UK funding bodies, particularly the Medical Research Council, have given to their research over the past three decades.

Further information

  1. Graham Collingridge is Professor of Neuroscience in Anatomy in the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the University of Bristol, chair of the department of Physiology at the University of Toronto and a senior investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto. He gained his bachelor’s degree in pharmacology at Bristol University and his PhD at the School of Pharmacy, University College London. After postdoctoral training in Vancouver and Sydney he spent most of his career at the University of Bristol where he was a member of the Departments of Pharmacology and of Anatomy, the Director of the MRC Centre for Synaptic Plasticity and, currently, the School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience. Collingridge is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Founding Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He has previously been awarded the Gaddam Memorial Prize, the Santiago Grisolia Prize and the Feldberg Prize.
  2. The one million Euro Brain Prize is awarded by the independent, charitable Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation.
  3. In 2016, the Prize will be awarded for the sixth consecutive year. This year it will be awarded to ground-breaking research into the cellular and molecular basis of the phenomenon of long-term potentiation and for showing that this form of plasticity in neural connections is the basis for memory and learning.
  4. The Brain Prize is a personal prize, awarded to one or more scientists who have achieved distinction through outstanding contributions to European brain research.
  5. The Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Prize - The Brain Prize - is awarded by Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation, a charitable, non-profit organization founded by the Lundbeck Foundation. The Prize and the Foundation are both named after Grete Lundbeck, visionary founder of Lundbeck Foundation.  More information can be found on The Brain Prize website,
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