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Professor Dr

Erin Schuman

Year of election: 2017
Section: Biochemistry and Biophysics
City: Frankfurt (M.)
Country: Germany
Erin Schuman awarded the Körber European Science Prize
CV Erin M. Schuman - German (PDF)
CV Erin M. Schuman - English (PDF)

Research

Research Priorities: Neurobiology, synapses, neural networks, learning, memory

Erin M. Schuman is an American psychologist and neuroscientist who studies the foundations of learning and memory formation. Her main focus is on synapses, structures that connect and facilitate communication between nerve cells. Erin Schuman made a remarkable discovery when she demonstrated that neuron proteins can also synthesise outside cell bodies, in dendrites – a phenomenon known as local protein synthesis.

Nerve cells demonstrate considerable plasticity in order to continuously adapt to new tasks and changing conditions. An individual neuron communicates via numerous synapses with various cell types, such as sensory cells, muscle cells, gland cells, and other nerve cells. This complex interaction would be impossible without numerous proteins that function as messengers. Erin Schuman managed to show that all the structures required for the constant regeneration of some 250 million protein molecules are present in the nerve cells. These structures include ribosomes, which act as catalysts for protein biosynthesis, as well as mRNAs, which transmit the necessary information and blueprints to the entire cell.

The neuroscientist has studied, in particular, the formation of long-term memory. While new information is initially forwarded by electrical impulses, a new synthesis of proteins is necessary for long-term memory storage. For a long time it was unclear how proteins reached their destination and how one nerve cell can change specific contacts while others remain unchanged.

Erin Schuman’s team showed that new proteins can be created locally as a reaction to special signals close to synapses. The cell’s machinery for protein synthesis and degradation is found not only in the cell body, but also in dendrites; mRNAs have even been detected in the direct proximity of synapses. Initially, this was considered an exception that merely enabled the local production of a small number of selected proteins. However, Schuman and her colleagues found a quantity of mRNAs in neuron extensions that is significantly higher than was first assumed. Local protein synthesis is thus presumably a far more significant phenomenon for normal nerve cell operation than was previously supposed.

Erin Schuman is now using the latest technology to study the molecular diversity of synapses by precisely characterising and quantifying the mRNAs, proteins, and lipids present in them. Her pioneering research has enriched our understanding of how information is stored. She has helped make the learning process visible.

Career

  • since 2021 Professor by special appointment, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • since 2015 Professor of Neural-Synaptic Dynamics, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • since 2009 Director, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • 2008 Guest Fellow, National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
  • 2007-2009 Expert Representative, Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, Caltech, Pasadena, USA
  • 2005 Guest Fellow, Russ Fernald Lab, Stanford University, Stanford, USA
  • 2004-2010 Professor of Biology, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, USA
  • 2004-2009 Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Washington D.C., USA
  • 2002-2004 Associate Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Washington D.C., USA
  • 2000-2006 Executive Officer for Biology, Caltech, Pasadena, USA
  • 1999-2004 Adjunct Professor of Biology, Caltech Pasadena, USA
  • 1997-2002 Assistant Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Washington D.C., USA
  • 1993-1999 Assistant Professor, Caltech, Pasadena, USA
  • 1990-1993 Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University, Stanford, USA
  • 1990 Postdoctoral Fellow, Princeton University, Princeton, USA
  • 1985-1990 Doctoral Student, Princeton University, Princeton, USA

Functions

  • since 2024 Chair, Scientific Advisory Board, Biocenter (BZ) Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  • since 2024 Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Institut Jacques Monod, Paris, France
  • since 2023 Member, Pradel Prize Committee, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • since 2023 Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, Neural Circuits and Behaviour, London, UK
  • since 2023 Member, Eric Kandel Young Neuroscientist Prize Committee, Hertie Foundation, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • since 2022 Chair, Talent Panel, Lundbeck Foundation, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • since 2021 Member, Scientific Advisory Board, UK Dementia Research Institute at Imperial College, London
  • since 2021 Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Paris Brain Institute (ICM), Paris, France
  • since 2021 Expert, Scientific Advisory Board, Norbrain, Trondheim, Norway
  • since 2021 Member, Jeantet Prize Committee, Louis-Jantet Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland
  • since 2020 Member, Scientific Advisory Board, CRC1315 on Memory Consolidation, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  • since 2019 Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Biocenter (BZ) Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  • since 2018 Member, Talent Panel, Lundbeck Foundation, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • since 2017 Expert, SAB, Simons Initiative for Developing Brain, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  • 2017-2024 Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Innovative Training Network “ZENITH ZEbrafish Neuroscience Interdisciplinary Training Hub”, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action, European Commission (EC)
  • since 2016 Expert, Editorial Board, Neuron
  • since 2016 Expert, Editorial Board, Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology
  • since 2014 Associate Editor, Neuroscience Research (Japan)
  • 2012-2014 Member, Working Group for the Promotion of Female Researchers, Max Planck Society (MPG) Munich, Munich, Germany
  • seit 2009 Associate Editor, Current Opinion in Neurobiology
  • since 2002 Member, Advisory Board, Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, Trondheim, Norway

Projects

  • 2022-2027 Principal Investigator, Advanced Grant “DiverseSynapse – Revealing the Landscape of Synaptic Diversity by Cell type- and Synapse-specific Proteomics and Transcriptomics”, ERC
  • since 2017 Principal Investigator, Subproject “Coordination of Protein Synthesis and Degradation in Neurons”, Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1080, German Research Foundation (DFG), Germany
  • 2017-2022 Principal Investigator, Advanced Grant “NeuroRibo Specialized Ribosomes for Neuronal Protein Synthesis”, ERC
  • 2016-2020 Principal Investigator, Subproject “Developing a zebrafish model to identify novel mediators of resilience mechanisms”, CRC 1193, DFG, Germany
  • 2013-2016 Principal Investigator, Subproject “Decoding neural activity through changes in the synaptic proteome”, CRC 1080, DFG, Germany
  • 2012-2020 Principal Investigator, Project “Dynamics of RNA and RNP distribution in neural cells”, Cluster of Excellence (EXC) 115, DFG, Germany
  • 2011-2015 Spokesperson, International Max Planck Research School “Neural Circuits”, MPG Munich, Munich, Germany
  • 2011-2015 Principal Investigator, Subproject “Regulation of mRNA in neurons”, CRC 902, DFG, Germany
  • 2012-2016 Principal Investigator, Advanced Grant “Dynamics of local transcriptomes and proteomes in neurons”, ERC

Honours and Memberships

  • 2024 Körber European Science Prize, Körber-Stiftung, Hamburg, Germany
  • since 2023 Elected Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, USA
  • 2023 Brain Prize (with Christine Holt and Michael Greenberg), Lundbeck Foundation, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2023 52nd Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award (with Christine Holt), Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center, Brandeis University, Waltham, USA
  • 2022 FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Awar, Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) sowie European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)
  • 2021 Vallee Visiting Professorship, Vallee Foundation, Cambridge, USA
  • 2020 Diversity Prize, ALBA Network and FENS Kavli Network of Excellence (FKNE), Federation of European Neuroscience Societies
  • since 2020 Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences, USA
  • 2020 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine, Louis-Jeantet Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 2018 Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award, Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C., USA
  • since 2017 Elected Member, German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, Germany
  • since 2017 Elected Member, Academia Europaea
  • 2016 Forbes Lectures, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Chicago, Illinois USA
  • since 2014 Elected Member, EMBO
  • 2013 Alexander Cruickshank Lecture, Gordon Research Conference, Lucca (Barga), Italy
  • 2013 Hodgkin-Huxley-Katz Prize Lecture, Physiological Society, London, UK
  • 2013 Norbert Elsner Lecture, German Neuroscience Society, Germany
  • 2008 Gerard Lecture, University of California, Irvine, USA
  • 1996 Ferguson Biology Undergraduate Teaching Prize, Caltech, Pasadena, USA
  • 1996-1998 Beckman Young Investigator Award, Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Irvine, USA
  • 1995-1999 Pew Biomedical Scholar, Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, USA
  • 1995 Women Emerging Grant, American Association of University Women (AAUW), USA
  • 1995 Ferguson Biology Graduate Teaching Prize, Caltech, Pasadena, USA
  • 1994-1998 John Merck Scholar, John Merck Fund, Harrison, USA
  • 1994-1996 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, New York City, USA

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