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Thomas Südhof

Nobel Laureate

Thomas Christian Südhof was born in Göttingen, Germany in 1955 and obtained his M.D. and doctoral degrees from the University of Göttingen in 1982. He performed his doctoral thesis work at the Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie in Göttingen with Prof. Victor P. Whittaker on the biophysical structure of secretory granules. From 1983-1986, Südhof trained as a postdoctoral fellow with Drs. Mike Brown and Joe Goldstein at UT Southwestern in Dallas, TX, and elucidated the structure, expression and cholesterol-dependent regulation of the LDL receptor gene. Südhof began his independent career in 1986 at UT Southwestern, where he stayed until 2008 and, among others, was the founding chair of the Department of Neuroscience. In 2008, Südhof moved to Stanford, and became the Avram Goldstein Professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford University. In addition, Südhof has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1986.

Prior to becoming a neuroscientist, Südhof was trained in the biophysics of subcellular organelles at the Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie and in cholesterol metabolism at UT Southwestern. When Südhof started his laboratory, he decided to switch to neuroscience to study synapses because of their central, as yet incompletely understood role in brain function. Südhof’s work initially focused on the mechanism of neurotransmitter release, which is the first step in synaptic transmission that accounts for the speed and precision of information transfer in the brain. It was for this work that Südhof was awarded in 2013 the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (with Richard Scheller) and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (with James Rothman and Randy Schekman). In the last decade, Südhof’s research emphasis has switched to focus on a different unsolved problem in neuroscience that regards synapses, namely how synapses are established specifically between defined pre- and postsynaptic neurons, and how such connections are endowed with specific properties by these neurons. Addressing this fundamental question is essential for understanding how circuits are wired and how they process information, but the basic rules that govern synapse formation and specification are only now beginning to emerge. Elucidating these rules is the goal of Südhof’s present work.