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93rd Faculty Research Lecture
Building the Brain: How Nerve Connections Are Formed During Development

S. Lawrence Zipursky

Professor, Department of Biological Chemistry
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

January 29, 2003


During the past 17 years on the UCLA faculty Dr. S. Lawrence Zipursky has used the eye of the fruit fly to study fundamental questions about neural development.

In the late 1980s and the early 1990s Dr. Zipursky and his students discovered an interaction between two developing cells in the fly eye in which one cell induced a neighboring cell to assume a specific identity and determined its molecular basis. This was among the first molecular descriptions of an inductive interaction in development, one of many that control the development of different tissues and cell types in multicellular organisms. These studies established principle of induction that have subsequently been shown to operate many other systems.


Since the mid-1990s, Dr. Zipursky's research has increasingly focused on how neurons form precise networks of connections, or synapses, that make up the neural circuits underlying behavior. While the extraordinary complexity and specificity of these connections was first described a century ago, how these form during development remains one of the most important unanswered questions in neurobiology.

In 1991, Dr. Zipursky was appointed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, one of the nation's most prestigious research accolades. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award in Neuroscience and a McKnight Foundation Neuroscience Scholar's Award. He is also the author of the undergraduate textbook Molecular Cell Biology, which has sold more than 100,000 copies and has been translated into Japanese, German and French.

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