Kavli Prize awarded for pioneering work on the molecular and neural mechanisms of hearing

6th Jun 2018

The 2018 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience has been awarded to three people for their, “pioneering work on the molecular and neural mechanisms of hearing.”

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has decided to award the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for 2018 to A. James Hudspeth from Rockefeller University, Robert Fettiplace from the University of Wisconsin, and Christine Petit from Collège de France/Pasteur Institute.  

The Kavli Prize is a partnership between the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (USA), and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. The Kavli Prizes were initiated by and named after Fred Kavli (1927-2013), founder of The Kavli Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work.

The BNA offers its congratulations to all three worthy winners for their dedication and achievements in neuroscience. 

James Hudspeth Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has provided the major framework for our understanding of the process that transduces sound into neural signals. Extending from each hair cell is a bundle of fine processes that act as sensors. Hudspeth used ingenious methods to reveal how sound-induced vibrations, which set the hair bundle in motion, evoke an electrical response in the hair cells through a direct mechanical connection between the hair bundle and ion channels. He also revealed how sound signals, which can be extremely small, are amplified within the inner ear.

Robert Fettiplace M.D., Ph.D., is a professor and director of the FM Kirby Centre for Sensory Neuroscience at Rockefeller University. He has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of sound transduction and demonstrated that each hair cell in the cochlea of the inner ear is sensitive to a specific range of sound frequencies. His experiments revealed that hair cells are organised along the cochlea in a pattern that reflects their frequency selectivity. Using sensitive physiological measurements and theoretical modelling, he discovered that this selectivity reflects an intrinsic electrical property of the cell, set by the density and kinetics of its ion channels that induce a resonance at a particular frequency.

Christine Petit Ph.D., is a professor in genetics and cellular physiology at College de France. She has explored the genetics of hereditary deafness in humans and identified more than twenty genes that are required for hearing and inner ear development. She elucidated the mechanisms through which these mutations cause hearing deficits, thus illuminating the unique biology of hair cells and informing deafness diagnosis and counseling. Several of the genes she identified form major components of the hair cell mechanotransduction machinery. Collectively the breakthroughs made by this year’s Kavli Prize laureates have unveiled the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie hearing and deafness.

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