Pasko Rakic

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Pasko Rakic
Born 1933
Ruma, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Fields Neuroscience
Institutions Yale University
Alma mater University of Belgrade, Harvard University
Notable awards
Kavli Prize (2008)

Pasko Rakic, MD, PhD (Croatian: Paško Rakić) is a Yugoslav-born American neuroscientist, who presently works in the Yale School of Medicine Department of Neuroscience in New Haven, CT. His main research interest is in the development and evolution of the human brain. He was the founder and served as Chairman of the Department of Neurobiology at Yale for 37 years, and was founder and Director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience for 10 years. He is best known for elucidating the mechanisms involved in development of the cerebral cortex, the organ of the mind. In 2008, Rakic shared the inaugural Kavli Prize in Neuroscience with Thomas Jessell and Stan Grillner.[1] He is currently the Dorys McConell Duberg Professor of Neuroscience, leads an active research laboratory, and serves on Advisory Boards and Scientific Councils of a number of Institutions and Research Foundations.

Early life and Education[edit]

Pasko Rakic was born on May 15, 1933 in Ruma (formerly Kingdom of Yugoslavia). His father, Toma, was Croatian, originally from Pula (Istria, at that time part of Italy), but emigrated to Yugoslavia, where in the town of Novi Sad (province of Vojvodina) he studied to become an accountant and tax official. His mother, Juliana Todoric, of Serbian and Slovakian dissent was born in Dubrovnik (Dalmatia) and moved to Ruma where they met and got married in 1929.[2][3]

Due to the nature of his father’s job as Director of Regional Tax Services, the family moved to different towns every few years. Finally, their daughter, Vera, and son, Pasko, completed Gimnasium (High School) in the town of Sremska Mitrovica. Vera eventually graduated in mathematics from Belgrade University, and Pasko obtained his medical degree (MD) from the University of Belgrade School of Medicine, where he embarked on a career as a neurosurgeon.[2]

His research career began in 1962, with a Fulbright Fellowship at Harvard University in Boston, MA, where he met professor Paul Yakovlev, who introduced him to the joy of studying human brain development, which inspired him to abandon neurosurgery.[3][4] In 1966, he returned to Belgrade and obtained his graduate degree in Developmental Biology and Genetics in 1969. During work on his doctoral thesis, Rakic made his first significant discovery that was internationally recognized.[5]

He was than offered and accepted faculty position at Harvard Medical School, where he worked and taught for 8 years.

In 1978 he was recruited, by George Palade, to Yale University, where he founded and served as Chair of the Department of Neurobiology, and the director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, until 2015, when he returned to work full-time on his research projects, funded by US Public Health Services and various private foundations.

He was president of the Society for Neuroscience and popularized this field with numerous lectures given in over 35 counties.


Pasko Rakic is well known for his studies of the development and evolution of the brain. More specifically, he has discovered and formulated basic cellular and molecular mechanisms of proliferation and migration of neurons in the cerebral cortex, the brain’s outer layer, which plays a key role in cognition and human exceptional mental capacities.

According to Nature Medicine, his first experiments at Harvard required an especially large research grant, that enabled exposure of non-human primate rhesus monkeys to so much radioactive thymidine that manufacturers had to retool their entire production system to provide it. Rakic injected the monkeys' fetuses with radioactive thymidine at a particular time after conception. Only replicating cells took up the radioactive label, which enabled Rakic to trace the lineages of brain cells as they were created. He and his team then sliced the brain of each monkey into 7,000 sections, which were stored in Rakic’s collection for the benefit of future researchers. Because he used a radiolabel that decays slowly, the slides should be useful for years, and have so far led to more than 24 papers.[6] This material has also provided evidence that contributed one of the significant tenets of Neuroscience, that neurons of the cerebral cortex last for the entire lifespan and are irreplaceable.[7]

Rakic discovered the early commitment of newborn neurons to their laminar, radial and areal fates and proposed differential cell adhesion as the basic mechanism for their surface-mediating migration along transient radial glial scaffolding.[8][9] These studies led him to postulate the “radial unit hypothesis” and “protomap” hypotheses of cortical development and evolution that provide the framework for understanding basic principles of normal and pathological development of the human brain.[10][11]

Rakic also provided direct cellular evidence for the competitive interactions among binocular visual connections before birth, and showed that axons, synapses and neurotransmitter receptors are overproduced before declining to the adult levels by a process of competitive selective elimination.[12][13]

According to Google Scholar, Rakic is among most highly cited neuroscientists.[14]

Honors and Awards[edit]

Grass Foundation Award, 1985

Karl Spencer Lashley Award, American Philosophical Society, 1986

Francois I Medal, College de France, 1986

Kreig Cortical Discoverer Award, 1989

Marta Philipson Award, Stockholm 2000

Pasarow Foundation Award, 2001

Fyssen International Science Prize, 1992

F.O. Schmitt Medal, 1992

Weinstein-Goldenson Award (United Cerebral Palsy Foundation) 1994;

Henry Gray Award, AAA, 1996

Bristol-Myers Squibb Neuroscience Award, 2002

Gerard Prize, SFN, 2002

Inaugural Kavli Neuroscience Prize shared with T. Jessell & S.Grillner (2008)

Krieg Lifetime Achievement Award shared with Paul Allen, 2010

Max Cowan Award, 2013

Sandy Palay Award, 2014

Child Mind Institute Award, NYC, 2014

Becker Award “Gesellschaft fuer Neuropaediatrie” 2014

Academy Membership[edit]

National Academy of Sciences (USA)

American Academy of Arts and Sciences (USA)

National Academy of Medicine (USA)

Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU)

Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU)

Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (NOR)

Academia Europea (UK)

Royal Society London (UK)


He is married to Sandra Biller Rakic, MFT, who currently practices in New Haven, CT. Previously, he was married to Patricia Goldman-Rakic, also a neuroscientist, who died on July 31, 2003.[15]


  1. ^ "2008 Neuroscience Citation | The Kavli Foundation". Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  2. ^ a b "Cartographer of the brain" (PDF). Medicine@Yale. Office of Institutional Planning and Communications, Yale School of Medicine. 4 (1). March–April 2008. Retrieved 2013-01-27. A Croatian, born in the former Yugoslavia, Rakic’s first forays into neurobiology began during his medical education, followed by graduate training in developmental biology and genetics at Belgrade University. 
  3. ^ a b Orhidea Gaura (22 September 2008). "Paško Rakić-strastveni istraživač tajanstvenih neurona" [Paško Rakić-passionate researcher of mysterious neurons]. Nacional (in Croatian) (671). Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Profile: Pasko Rakic
  5. ^ Bystron, I (2008). "Development of human cerebral cortex Boulder Committee revisited". Nature Review Neuroscience. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  6. ^ Dove, Alan. "Profile: Pasko Rakic", Nature Medicine 11, 362 (2005)
  7. ^ Kornack, RD (2001-12-07). "Cell proliferation without neurogenesis in the adult primate neocortex". Science. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  8. ^ Rakic, Pasko (1972). "Mode of cell migration to the superficial layers of fetal monkey neocortex.". J Comp Neurol. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  9. ^ "Neurons in rhesus monkey visual cortex: systematic relation between time of origin and eventual disposition.". Science. 1974-02-01. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  10. ^ Rakic, Pasko (1988-07-08). "Specification of cerebral cortical areas.". Science. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  11. ^ Rakic, Pasko (2009). "Evolution of the neocortex: Perspective from developmental biology.". Nat. Rev. Neurosci. PMC 2913577free to read. 
  12. ^ Rakic, Pasko (1976-06-10). "Prenatal genesis of connections subserving ocular dominance in the rhesus monkey". Nature. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  13. ^ Rakic, Pasko (1986-04-11). "Concurrent overproduction of synapses in diverse regions of the primate cerebral cortex.". Science. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  14. ^ "Pasko Rakic". Google Scholar. 2016-05-10. Retrieved 2016-05-10. 
  15. ^ Patricia Goldman-Rakic 1937-2003 Cerebral Cortex

External links[edit]