A.B. (1964) – Harvard University
Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1965) – Tufts University (Department of Biology)
Ph.D. (1971) – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Ann Graybiel is an Institute Professor at MIT and is a faculty member of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. She studied at Harvard (BA) and at MIT (PhD), and then joined the faculty of MIT. In her research, Graybiel began by focusing on the visual and oculomotor systems, but, with a special interest in the human brain, she tried with the then-available neurochemical methods to devise methods to allow comparisons across the neurochemical distributions in the brains of non-human and human brains. Through this work, she discovered, with her student Ragsdale, that the deep forebrain structure called the striatum has a compartmentalized, neurochemically detectable architecture related to cholinergic neural signaling, important for normal basal ganglia function. This architecture, as further studies by Graybiel and her group and others in the field successively showed, turned out to organize many of the gene expression patterns in the striatum. She and her lab members then found that this architecture, dividing the striatum into what she called striosomes and the matrix surrounding them, is a core organizing principle for the connections, the transmitter and receptor expression, and the plasticity-related changes in gene expression of striatal neurons. A key recent finding from her lab is that the axons of some of the striosomal neurons can directly, with elaborate arbors, intertwine with the bundled dendrites of dopamine-containing neurons of the substantial nigra. This finding raises the possibility that striosomes in some parts of the striatum can powerfully control dopamine. Their new work with multiple-electrode multi-site recording, fiber photometry, 2-photon microscopy, and interventional methods suggest that this striosome-matrix organization, in the dorsomedial striatum, reflects functional specializations of the striosomes for engaging in learning-related plasticity and in the value-evaluation necessary in making challenging cost-benefit decisions. Their work on mouse models of Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, autism spectrum disorders and addictive repetitive behaviors is aimed at translational research with the goal of helping humankind.