Two Johns Hopkins researchers were among 72 of the
nation's top scientists elected last week to membership in
the National Academy of Sciences at the organization's
141st annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Richard Huganir, professor of
neuroscience and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute
investigator at the School of Medicine, and Diane E.
Griffin, chair of the
Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and
Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public Health, join 15 other Johns Hopkins faculty members
currently in the academy, an honorary society that advises
the government on scientific matters.
Huganir's research has focused on how molecular
signals created and received by nerves in the brain allow
learning and memory to take place.
Scientists believe that learning and memory happen
when communication channels between nerve cells are
weakened or strengthened, a process called synaptic
plasticity. For example, a burst of an excitatory chemical
called glutamate from one nerve to the next will make it
harder for that particular connection to "fire" again for a
certain amount of time. The sheer number of possible
connections gives the brain unfathomable flexibility--each
of the brain's trillion nerve cells can have up to a
thousand connections to other nerves.
Huganir and his colleagues are investigating exactly
how these nerve-to-nerve communications happen and what
molecules are involved in weakening or strengthening two
neurons' ability to talk to one another.
Last year, for example, Huganir and his colleagues
discovered in experiments with mice a critically important
step in storing new memories. When a phosphate group
couldn't be hooked onto one part of the animal's glutamate
receptor, the mice quickly forgot the location of a
platform in a pool of water.
Also last year, Huganir and fellow neuroscience
faculty member David Linden reported finding one of the
last steps involved in weakening neurons' interactions.
Their discovery offered the first way to test which
proteins or genetic changes affect this weakening
Huganir received his bachelor's degree in biochemistry
from Vassar College and his doctorate from Cornell
University's program in biochemistry, molecular and cell
biology in 1982. He completed his postdoctoral training
with Nobel laureate Paul Greengard, first at Yale and then
at Rockefeller University, where he became an assistant
professor in 1984. In 1988, he joined the Johns Hopkins
faculty as an associate professor of neuroscience and of
biological chemistry, and was named an associate
investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In
1993, he was named a professor of neuroscience and
biological chemistry and an investigator of HHMI.
Griffin's research has focused on how viruses cause
disease. For example, Sindbis virus is transmitted by
mosquitoes and causes encephalitis, an inflammation of the
brain, in mammals and birds. She has studied how this virus
infects and kills selected nerve cells in mice and has
identified ways that the immune system can clear the virus
from neurons without harming them.
She also is investigating measles, a disease that
continues to cause the deaths of a large number of children
in developing countries. Through collaborations at a study
site at University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia,
Griffin and her colleagues are trying to find out how
measles virus infection suppresses the immune system, a
process that can lead to serious secondary infections and
even death. They've also discovered that measles infection
suppresses replication of HIV, a phenomenon they continue
to investigate. In addition, she is working to understand
how the immune system protects people from infection and is
using this knowledge to develop a new measles vaccine that
would protect children younger than six months.
Griffin received her bachelor's degree in biology from
Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., and her medical
degree and doctorate in immunology from Stanford University
in 1968 and 1970, respectively. She conducted her medical
residency at Stanford and was a virology fellow at the
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine from 1970 until 1973, when
she joined the faculty as an assistant professor of
medicine and neurology.
From 1975 until 1982, Griffin was an investigator of
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Johns Hopkins. She
advanced to associate professor of medicine and neurology
in 1979, and in 1986 was named a full professor in these
departments. In 1994, she also became professor and chair
of molecular microbiology and immunology in the School of
Public Health. Griffin is also director of the Malaria
Research Institute at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public Health, which is working to eradicate malaria.
Griffin is a fellow of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science and of the Infectious Disease
Society of America. She is currently editor of the Journal
of Virology and on the editorial boards of Virology, Virus
Research and the Journal of Neurovirology.