Prize Finalists 2023

Michael A. Skinnider, M.D., Ph.D.

Princeton University, USA

Michael A. Skinnider is an Assistant Professor in the Princeton Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia, completing his doctoral work with Dr. Leonard Foster. He was also a visiting Ph.D. student and then postdoctoral fellow at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne with Dr. Grégoire Courtine. Previously, he completed his undergraduate studies at McMaster University, where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Nathan Magarvey.

Essay: From single cells to neural circuits

The human brain is composed of billions of neurons, wired together into neural circuits by trillions of synapses. Deciphering the organization of these neural circuits is a fundamental goal of neuroscience. Historically, however, studying neural circuits has been a time-consuming and labor-intensive endeavor. Michael A. Skinnider developed a pair of machine-learning tools, named Augur and Magellan, to accelerate the pace at which neural circuits can be mapped. These tools are designed to operate on data generated by the emerging techniques of single-cell and spatial transcriptomics, which can measure the expression of thousands of genes across tens of thousands of neurons in a single experiment. Applying Augur to single-cell and spatial transcriptomic data from the mouse spinal cord revealed a subpopulation of neurons that allowed paralyzed mice to recover the ability to walk again. Together, Augur and Magellan provide a framework that could accelerate our ability to identify the neurons underlying any given behavior.

Finalist Mattia Aime, Ph.D.

University of Bern, Switzerland

Mattia Aime received his undergraduate degree in Neurobiology from the University of Pavia, Italy. He then pursued his doctoral studies at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Neuroscience in Bordeaux, France, where, under the supervision of Dr. Frédéric Gambino, he identified a neuronal mechanism involved in the processing of emotionally related information in the mouse brain. He is currently completing his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Bern, Switzerland, in the group headed by Prof. Adamantidis.

Essay: “Feel” better: Sleep on it!

Emotions are a potent driving force in our lives, influencing our perceptions, behaviors, and overall well-being. As we navigate the complexities of daily existence, we encounter a myriad of events evoking strong positive and negative emotional responses. Yet, how do we effectively manage this influx of emotional information without becoming overwhelmed? Interestingly, the answer to this question might lie in a seemingly unrelated phenomenon: sleep.

Sleep is a pivotal component of our daily routine, and among the multitude of functions attributed to this state, emotional processing stands out as a crucial aspect. However, the science underpinning the interplay between sleep and emotions remains only partially understood. Mattia Aime and colleagues identified a neuronal mechanism that triages positive from negative emotions during REM sleep by finely tuning the excitation/inhibition balance within the neuronal circuits of the prefrontal cortex.

Beyond its implications for understanding brain excitability and plasticity, this discovery reveals the cellular dynamics underlying the brain electroencephalogram. Moreover, it opens new avenues for the therapeutic treatment of maladaptive processing of traumatic memories, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) or anxiety disorders.