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Susumu Tonegawa

susumu tonegawa, susumu tonegawa nobel prize
Susumu Tonegawa 利根川 進 Tonegawa Susumu, born September 6, 1939 is a Japanese scientist who was the sole recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1987, for his discovery of the genetic mechanism that produces antibody diversity2 Although he won the Nobel Prize for his work in immunology, Tonegawa is a molecular biologist by training and he again changed fields following his Nobel Prize win; he now studies neuroscience, examining the molecular, cellular and neuronal basis of memory formation and retrieval


  • 1 Early life and education
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Research
    • 31 Discovery of Immunity Diversity
    • 32 Neuroscience
  • 4 Personal life
  • 5 Selected awards and honors
  • 6 Selected publications
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links

Early life and educationedit

Tonegawa was born in Nagoya, Japan and attended Hibiya High School in Tokyo3 While a student at Kyoto University, Tonegawa became fascinated with operon theory after reading papers by François Jacob and Jacques Monod, whom he credits in part for inspiring his interest in molecular biology4 Tonegawa graduated from Kyoto University in 1963 and, due to limited options for molecular biology study in Japan at the time, moved to the University of California, San Diego to do his doctorate study under Dr Masaki Hayashi He received his PhD in 1968


Tonegawa conducted post-doctoral work at the Salk Institute in San Diego in the laboratory of Renato Dulbecco With encouragement from Dr Dulbecco, Tonegawa moved to the Basel Institute for Immunology in Basel, Switzerland in 1971, where he transitioned from molecular biology into immunology studies and carried out his landmark immunology studies

In 1981, Tonegawa became a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology In 1994, he was appointed as the first Director of the MIT Center for Learning and Memory, which developed under his guidance into The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory Tonegawa resigned his directorship in 2006 and currently serves as a Picower Professor of Neuroscience and Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Tonegawa has also served as Director of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute since 2009


Discovery of Immunity Diversityedit

Tonegawa’s Nobel Prize work elucidated the genetic mechanism of the adaptive immune system, which had been the central question of immunology for over 100 years Prior to Tonegawa’s discovery, one early idea to explain the adaptive immune system suggested that each gene produces one protein; however, there are under 19,000 genes in the human body which nonetheless can produce millions of antibodies In experiments beginning in 1976, Tonegawa showed that 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 antibodies5 In 1983, Tonegawa also discovered a transcriptional enhancer element associated with antibody gene complex, the first cellular enhancer element


Shortly following his Nobel Prize in 1990, Tonegawa again changed fields from immunology to neuroscience, where he has focused his research in the ensuing years

Tonegawa’s lab pioneered introductory transgenic and gene-knockout technologies in mammalian systems He was involved in early work demonstrating the importance of CaMKII 1992 and the NMDA receptor 1996 in memory formation

Tonegawa’s lab discovered that dendritic neuronal spines in the temporal cortex are a likely target for treatment of Fragile X Syndrome With one dosage of the inhibitor drug FRAX586, Tonegawa showed a marked reduction of FXS symptoms in the mouse model6

Tonegawa was an early adopter of optogenetics and biotechnology in neuroscience research, leading to his groundbreaking work identifying and manipulating memory engram cells In 2012, his lab demonstrated that the activation of a specific sub-population of mouse hippocampal neurons, labelled during a fear conditioning paradigm, is sufficient to evoke a behavioral response correlated with a precise memory trace This confirmed for the first time that memory information is stored in specific cellular ensembles in the hippocampus, now frequently called memory engram cells7

More recently, his lab continues to employ optogenetic technology and virus injection techniques to expand their findings on the engram cell ensemble Notably, Tonegawa has uncovered the role of memory engram cell ensembles in memory valence,8 as well as their role in brain disorders such as depression,9 amnesia,10 and Alzheimer’s disease These works provide proofs of concept for future medical treatments in humans through the manipulation of memory engram ensembles

Personal lifeedit

Tonegawa currently resides in the Boston area with his wife, Mayumi Yoshinari Tonegawa, who worked as an NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation director/interviewer and is now a freelance science writer The Tonegawas have three children

Tonegawa is a fan of the Boston Red Sox, and threw out an opening pitch during their 2004 World Series championship season

Selected awards and honorsedit

  • 1982 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
  • 1983 Gairdner Foundation International Award
  • 1984 Order of Culture Bunkakunsho, Emperor of Japan
  • 1986 Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences of the United States
  • 1986 Robert Koch Prize
  • 1987 Albert and Mary Lasker Award Basic Research
  • 1987 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
  • 2007 RIKEN Fellow
  • 2010 David M Bonner Lifetime Achievement Award, UCSD

Selected publicationsedit

  • List of publications by Susumu Tonegawa
  • Tonegawa, S 1983 Somatic generation of antibody diversity Nature, 3025909, 575-581
  • Gillies, S D, Morrison, S L, Oi, V T, & Tonegawa, S 1983 A tissue-specific transcription enhancer element is located in the major intron of a rearranged immunoglobulin heavy chain gene Cell, 333, 717-728
  • Mombaerts, P, Iacomini, J, Johnson, R S, Herrup, K, Tonegawa, S, & Papaioannou, V E 1992 RAG-1-deficient mice have no mature B and T lymphocytes Cell, 685, 869-877
  • Silva, A J, Stevens, C F, Tonegawa, S, & Wang, Y 1992 Deficient hippocampal long-term potentiation in alpha-calcium-calmodulin kinase II mutant mice Science, 2575067, 201-206
  • Haas, W, Pereira, P, & Tonegawa, S 1993 Gamma/delta cells Annual review of immunology, 111, 637-685
  • Tsien, J Z, Huerta, P T, & Tonegawa, S 1996 The essential role of hippocampal CA1 NMDA receptor–dependent synaptic plasticity in spatial memory Cell, 877, 1327-1338
  • Poss, K D, & Tonegawa, S 1997 Reduced stress defense in heme oxygenase 1-deficient cells Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 9420, 10925-10930
  • Shen, J, Bronson, R T, Chen, D F, Xia, W, Selkoe, D J, & Tonegawa, S 1997 Skeletal and CNS defects in Presenilin-1-deficient mice Cell, 894, 629-639
  • Nakazawa, K, Quirk, M C, Chitwood, R A, Watanabe, M, Yeckel, M F, Sun, L D, Kato, A, Carr, CA, Johnston, D, Wilson, MA, & Tonegawa, S 2002 Requirement for hippocampal CA3 NMDA receptors in associative memory recall Science, 2975579, 211-218
  • Liu, X, Ramirez, S, Pang, P T, Puryear, C B, Govindarajan, A, Deisseroth, K, & Tonegawa, S 2012 Optogenetic stimulation of a hippocampal engram activates fear memory recall Nature, 4847394, 381-385
  • Ramirez, S, Liu, X, Lin, P A, Suh, J, Pignatelli, M, Redondo, R L, Ryan, TJ, & Tonegawa, S 2013 Creating a false memory in the hippocampus Science, 3416144, 387-391

See alsoedit

  • List of Japanese Nobel laureates
  • List of Nobel laureates affiliated with Kyoto University


  1. ^ Hayday, A 1985 "Structure, organization, and somatic rearrangement of T cell gamma genes" Cell 40 2: 259–269 doi:101016/0092-86748590140-0 
  2. ^ "The MIT 150: 150 Ideas, Inventions, and Innovators that Helped Shape Our World" The Boston Globe May 15, 2011 Retrieved August 8, 2011 
  3. ^ Autobiography on Nobel official website
  4. ^ Autobiography on Nobel official website
  5. ^ https://wwwnobelprizeorg/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1987/presshtml
  6. ^ http://newsmitedu/2013/researchers-reverse-autism-symptoms-0319
  7. ^ Liu, X; et al 2012 "Optogenetic stimulation of a hippocampal engram activates fear memory recall" Nature 484: 381–385 PMC 3331914  PMID 22441246 doi:101038/nature11028 
  8. ^ http://wwwnaturecom/nature/journal/v513/n7518/full/nature13725html
  9. ^ http://wwwnaturecom/nature/journal/v522/n7556/full/nature14514html
  10. ^ http://sciencesciencemagorg/content/348/6238/1007

External linksedit

  • Faculty Webpage at MIT Biology
  • Description of research at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
  • The Official Site of Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
  • 1
  • http://picowermitedu/Faculty/Principal%20Investigators/susumu-tonegawa Susumu Tonegawa on The Picower Institute

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