Biochemist Lawrence Zipursky and research colleagues earns Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize

From Elaine Schmidt |

Lawrence Zipursky, distinguished professor of biological chemistry in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, will be honored with the 19th Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine for the discovery of cell-surface proteins that control circuit assembly in the visual system.

Established in 2000, the Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize is well known among biomedical scientists. Six of its previous winners went on to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine or the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Zipursky shares the award with Joshua Sanes, the Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Paul J. Finnegan Family Director of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University. The two researchers will visit Chapel Hill in March to deliver a lecture on their work and receive a $20,000 award.

Working with fruit flies, Zipursky discovered the Down Syndrome Cell Adhesion Molecule 1, known as Dscam1, family of cell recognition molecules. The Dscam1 family has thousands of members that can provide individual neurons with a specific surface marker. These proteins allow each type of nerve cell to avoid making connections with itself as it forms connections with other nerve cells. This process of “self-avoidance” has emerged as a key mechanism for determining how patterns form in the neural circuits of both flies and mammals.

“It is incredibly gratifying to have my work acknowledged by the Perl-UNC Prize,” Zipursky said. “I am particularly indebted to the students, postdoctoral fellows, and collaborators whose creativity, hard work and persistence led to the surprising discoveries for which I am being honored.”

Zipursky, the Jerome J. Belzer Chair of Medical Research and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, earned his doctorate in molecular biology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and conducted postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology before joining UCLA in 1985.