September 6, 1939 |
|Fields||Genetics, Immunology, Neuroscience|
|Institutions||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|Alma mater||Kyoto University, University of California, San Diego, Salk Institute|
|Academic advisors||Renato Dulbecco|
|Known for||Antibody diversity|
|Notable awards||Asahi Prize (1981)
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1982)
Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (1987)
Susumu Tonegawa (利根川 進 Tonegawa Susumu, born September 6, 1939) is a Japanese scientist who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1987 for his discovery of the genetic mechanism that produces antibody diversity. Although he won the Nobel Prize for his work in immunology, Tonegawa is a molecular biologist by training. In his later years, he has turned his attention to the molecular and cellular basis of memory formation.
Tonegawa is best known for figuring out the genetic mechanism of the adaptive immune system. One early idea was that each gene produces one protein. There are under 19,000 genes in the human body. However, the human body can produce millions of antibodies. Tonegawa showed in experiments beginning in 1976, genetic material rearranges itself to form millions of antibodies. Comparing the DNA of B cells (a type of white blood cell) in embryonic and adult mice, he observed that genes in the mature B cells of the adult mice are moved around, recombined, and deleted to form the diversity of the variable region of antibodies.
Tonegawa was born in Nagoya, Japan and attended the Hibiya High School in Tokyo. He received his bachelor's degree from Kyoto University in 1963. He received his doctorate from the University of California, San Diego where he worked with Dr Masaki Hayashi. He did post-doctoral work at the Salk Institute in San Diego in the laboratory of Renato Dulbecco, then worked at the Basel Institute for Immunology in Basel, Switzerland, where he performed his landmark immunology experiments. In 1981, he became a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and founded and directed what is now called the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. In 1982, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University together with Barbara McClintock, another Nobel Prize winner in 1983. He is a member of the Scientific Board of Governors at The Scripps Research Institute. He is currently the director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at MIT. While he heads a full research laboratory at MIT, as of April 1, 2009, he serves as the director of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI) in Wako-shi, Japan.
Recently a research report published by his group showed that the activation of a specific sub-population of neurons, labeled during fear conditioning paradigm, is sufficient to evoke a behavioural response correlated with a precise memory trace. This shows for the first time that the activation of a specific engram recalls memory itself. 
- "The MIT 150: 150 Ideas, Inventions, and Innovators that Helped Shape Our World". The Boston Globe. May 15, 2011. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
- Autobiography on Nobel official website
- "MIT Freshman Satto Tonegawa Dies at 18". The Harvard Crimson. October 28, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- "Cause of death determined Examiner’s report: Tonegawa death suicide". The Tech (newspaper). November 1, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- "Funeral service note".
- Liu, X. et al (2012). "Optogenetic stimulation of a hippocampal engram activates fear memory recall". Nature 484: 381–385. doi:10.1038/nature11028. PMID 22441246.
- Faculty Webpage at MIT Biology
- Description of research at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
- The Official Site of Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize