A.B. (1964) – Harvard University
Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1965) – Tufts University (Department of Biology)
Ph.D. (1971) – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In a line of pioneering experiments beginning with her discovery of the modular organization of the striatum, Ann Graybiel has systematically elucidated the functional architecture of the basal ganglia and has documented the existence of major plasticity in striatal electrical activity and molecular cell signaling related to habit learning and repetitive behaviors. The basal ganglia were known to underlie disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, but were largely unexplored due to their complexity and inaccessible position deep in the forebrain. Graybiel and her group were the first to demonstrate a systematic functional architecture in the striatum, the largest structure in the basal ganglia.
These findings have important implications for research on Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction, and neuropsychiatric disorders ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome to autism. The work of the Graybiel laboratory is leading to an integrated view of the basal ganglia as forebrain structures concerned with learning and expressing the action plans that guide motor and cognitive-affective behavior. Taken together, the basic scientific work of Graybiel and her coworkers is proving to have major implications for neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, their cellular and genetic basis, and therapeutic strategies to relieve them.
Most recently, Graybiel, in collaboration with researchers in New Zealand and in Japan, found that there is differential neurodegeneration in striosomes in Huntington’s disease patients exhibiting predominant mood disorders and in models of dystonias, both debilitating basal ganglia disorders. This work directly links the brain subsystems Graybiel discovered to the expression of human neurodegenerative brain disorders.
On the basis of her work, Graybiel was elected to the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (1988), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), and the Institute of Medicine of the USA (1994). She was awarded the Dow Award in 2002, the Prix Plasticité Neuronale IBSEN in 2005, and the Vanderbilt Prize in 2008. In 2001, Graybiel was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest science award. In 2012, Graybiel shared the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience with two other recipients.