Alexander von Humboldt Professorship 2023

Thomas Südhof

When the human cell’s transport system fails to work properly, neurological disorders, diseases and problems in the immune system may result. For his insights into the ways cells organise their transport system, the neuroscientist, Thomas Südhof, was awarded the Nobel Prize. He has now received an offer from Charité Berlin to continue his research in Germany.

  • Nominating Universities: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Freie Universität Berlin
Portrait of Thomas Südhof
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Synapses are the focus of Thomas Südhof’s research. There are some 100 trillion synapses in the human brain, and they are fundamental to neural information transmission. To enable a person to think, act and feel, the brain cells must communicate with one another continually and quickly. This communication takes place at the synapses, specialised junctions that transmit and compute information in milliseconds. Apart from their basic function and significance, however, we know relatively little about synapses.
Together with his team, Südhof explores how synapses are formed and how they change. He discovered how and why vesicles, synaptic bubblelike structures packed with transmitters, choose the right time for releasing their freight of information at the synapses, breaking new ground by identifying and cloning a number of proteins involved in this transport process. Most recently, one strand of his work has focused on how diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and autism cause synapses to become non-functional. This will pave the way for better therapies.
At Charité – the joint medical faculty of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Freie Universität Berlin –Südhof is invited to continue his productive activity as professor of molecular neurosciences. In addition to excellent fundamental research in the context of the “Rethinking Health” strategy, major contributions to research into neuropsychiatric issues are foreseen, especially in the continued development of methods. Südhof’s appointment in the research environment of the NeuroCure cluster of excellence, the Neuroscience Research Center (NWFZ) and the Institute of Neurophysiology promises to generate even greater international visibility for synapse research in Berlin.

Brief bio

Thomas Südhof studied medicine at RWTH Aachen University, Harvard University (USA) and the University of Göttingen, where he completed his doctorate in 1982. He then moved to the United States where he conducted research at UT Southwestern in Dallas, being appointed to a full professorship in 1991. In 2008, he relocated to Stanford University, United States, where he became Avram Goldstein Professor; since 2015, he has also been director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience in Health und Disease. As well as the Nobel Prize in Medicine (2013) he has received many other honours for his research achievements including the Albert Lasker Award (2013) and the Kavli Prize (2010). He is also an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), the Royal Society (UK) and the Leopoldina, and holds the Federal Republic’s Great Cross of Merit with Star.