The Max Planck Florida Institute (MPFI) has announced that neuroscientists Hyungbae Kwon, PhD and Hiroki Taniguchi, PhD will join the Institute as research group leaders. With the addition of Drs. Kwon and Taniguchi, MPFI will have eight research groups, each dedicated to investigating different aspects of the structure and function of neural circuits. One of the ultimate challenges in biology is to understand neural circuits, which form the complex synaptic networks of the brain and determine who we are, how we think, and how we behave.
“We are delighted to have these two outstanding young neuroscientists join our Institute,” says David Fitzpatrick, PhD, CEO, Scientific Director of the Institute, and leader of the research group, Functional Architecture and Development of Cerebral Cortex. “The addition of Dr. Taniguchi and Dr. Kwon is part of our plan to build the best team of scientists who can significantly advance our understanding of neural circuits and, ultimately, develop more effective treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.”
Dr. Kwon joins MPFI from the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, where he served as a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Bernardo Sabatini, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Dr. Taniguchi comes to the Institute from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he was a research investigator in the lab of Dr. Z. Josh Huang.
Dr. Taniguchi’s research probes the cellular and molecular mechanisms that are responsible for the development of neural circuits in the cerebral cortex, the largest and most complex area of the brain, whose proper function is critical for sensory perception, motor control, and cognition. He is highly regarded in the field for pioneering work that has made it possible to target molecular probes to specific classes of neurons in the cerebral cortex that utilize the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. This discovery has opened the door to a broad range of experiments that will make it possible to analyze the structure, function and development of GABAergic neurons, and to use this information to address a host of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Among other scientific goals, Dr. Taniguchi plans to work collaboratively with colleagues at Max Planck Florida Institute to expand his studies of GABA neurons and their roles in regulating the activity of circuits in cerebral cortex.
Prior to his position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Dr. Taniguchi received his PhD from the National Institute for Basic Biology in Japan and was a postdoctoral fellow, in Dr. Peter Scheiffele’s lab at Columbia. Recognition of Dr. Taniguchi’s accomplishments includes fellowships from the Toyobo Biotechnology Foundation, the Riken Institute, and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression. He was recently awarded a PRESTO grant from the Japanese Government to pursue his studies on the development and function of neural circuits. Among the prestigious journals that have published his work are Nature, Neuron, and Journal of Neuroscience.
Dr. Kwon’s research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of synapse formation and synaptic signaling in cortical circuits. His most recent work shows that localized release of the neurotransmitter glutamate is sufficient to induce the emergence of dendritic spines, neuronal specializations that harbor the vast majority of the synaptic inputs to cortical neurons. This work has demonstrated the contribution of newly formed synapses to the function of cortical circuits and has made it feasible to study the molecular mechanisms by which spines and synapses are formed. As a research group leader at Max Planck Florida Institute, Dr. Kwon plans to continue exploring the molecular mechanisms that regulate synapse development and neuronal connectivity. His long-term goal is to understand how neural circuits are properly constructed and revised by constantly changing environmental inputs during early development. His research will provide fundamental insights into the regulation of cortical circuit formation and promote a better understanding of the pathophysiology underlying key brain disorders.
Prior to working with Dr. Sabatini at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kwon received his PhD in Dr. Pablo Castillo’s lab at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the recipient of numerous honors including a Brain Korea 21 Fellowship; The Society for Neuroscience Chapter Graduate Student Award; Association of Korean Neuroscientists Outstanding Research Award; and the 13th Julius Marmur Research Award, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is first author or co-author of a number of influential studies, published or in press in such high-impact scientific journals as Nature, Neuron, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Journal of Neuroscience.
About the Max Planck Florida Institute – The first institute established by Germany’s prestigious Max Planck Society outside of Europe, the Max Planck Florida Institute is also the first research institute of its kind in North America. MPFI seeks to provide new insight into the functional organization of the nervous system, its capacity to produce perception, thought, language, memory, emotion, and action. Neural circuits, the complex synaptic networks of the brain, hold the key to understanding who we are, why we behave the way we do, and how the debilitating effects of neurological and psychiatric disorders can be ameliorated. MPFI meets this challenge by forging links between different levels of analysis—genetic, molecular, cellular, circuit, and behavioral—and developing new technologies that make cutting edge scientific discoveries possible. For more information, visit www.maxplanckflorida.org