2011 Prize Winner Tiago Branco, M.D., Ph.D. Postdoctoral Research Fellow University College London

Tiago Branco received his M.D. from Lisbon University in 2002. He then joined the Wellcome Trust Four Year Ph.D. Programme in Neuroscience at University College London (UCL), where in the group of Dr. Yukiko Goda he focused on neurotransmitter release properties of individual synapses. After receiving his Ph.D. he moved to Dr. Michael Hausser's laboratory, where he has been a postdoctoral research fellow since 2007. He has applied electrophysiological, optical and modelling techniques to investigate how dendritic integration contributes to single neuron computations. He plans to combine this approach with molecular methods to investigate the role of dendrites in controlling animal behavior.

The Language of Dendrites
Animal survival depends on the ability to analyze the environment and act upon it. This requires processing information from the outside world and using it to produce an appropriate behavior. How does the brain achieve this? Information arrives at neurons in the form of synaptic input delivered to dendrites-protrusions from the cell body separating the input from the action potential initiation zone. In his studies Dr. Branco has investigated how the properties of dendrites might be used by single neurons to integrate information and perform specific computations. In particular, he has focused on the ability of dendrites to discriminate betweeen different temporal sequences of input, a fundamental computation for successfully interacting with a dynamic environment. Using twophoton glutamate uncaging to activate synapses with precise spatial and temporal control, Dr. Branco has shown that the presence of NMDA receptors allows dendrites to efficiently discriminate multiple input sequences. In addition, this property also gives dendrites the ability to use different computational strategies depending on input location. These findings give insight on how the brain performs the computations that underlie behavior, and suggest that even single neurons can solve complex computational tasks.

For Tiago Branco's full essay, see Science online at sciencemag.org.

2011 Finalists
Aaron D. Gitler, Ph.D.
Roger L. Clem, Ph.D.


2011 Prize Ceremony
Watch the movie from the 2011 Prize Ceremony.
See interviews with the 2011 winner Dr. Tiago Branco, finalists Dr. Roger Clem and Dr. Aaron Gitler and also with Science's Senior Editor and Chair of the Judging Panel Dr. Peter Stern.