I am delighted to share with you the great news that by yesterday’s unanimous vote of the Rockefeller Board’s Committee on Scientific Affairs, Priya Rajasethupathy has been promoted to Associate Professor and continuing Head of Laboratory, effective July 1.
Priya, who will become the Jonathan M. Nelson Associate Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neural Dynamics and Cognition, has made highly innovative and novel contributions to the understanding of how memories are formed, used, stored, and retrieved since she arrived on campus in 2017. Her ability to use diverse and technically demanding technologies to gain new insights into memory processes has been an inspiration.
For example, she and her lab members published a landmark paper in 2020 that identified a new protein and circuit involved in working memory – the memory that you keep in mind to execute a plan, like remembering after you go upstairs that you did that to retrieve your keys. By genetic mapping, they identified a short chromosome segment responsible for variation in this trait, and showed that the effect of the underlying gene likely originated in the dorsal thalamus, a surprising result. By increasing or decreasing expression of genes in the linked interval in the thalamus, they showed that modulation of one gene, Gpr12, accounted for the variation in working memory. They then showed that neurons expressing Gpr12 are connected to neurons in the prefrontal cortex, and that when a working memory is in use, the activity of these neurons becomes synchronized. These findings for the first time implicate Gpr12 activity and the thalamus in maintaining a working memory, a major advance in the field.
Priya’s research has also shed light on how complex, long-term memory processing is distributed in the brain. She and her team found that while the complex memory was stored in the hippocampus – the structure in the brain most associated with durable memories – many of the contextual elements of the memory are stored in separate parts the prefrontal cortex. This work has provided insight into the process of memory recall, which is less well understood than memory storage.
And in research currently in press, Priya’s team simultaneously imaged neural activity in different regions of the mouse brain over a period of weeks during which learning and memory consolidation took place. The scientists found that specific neurons in the anterior thalamus play a vital and unsuspected role in memory consolidation, and that communication between those neurons and the anterior cingulate cortex, a region in the prefrontal cortex, enhances memory consolidation.
Collectively, this is a truly impressive body of work!
Priya has been honored with a number of prestigious awards in recognition of her research successes. She received an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award in 2017, an Irma T. Hirschl and Monique Weill-Caulier Research Award in 2018, designation as a Searle Scholar in 2018, a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship in 2018, and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2019.
Beyond her scientific activities, Priya is a dynamic, warm, and supportive colleague, and she is an engaged mentor. She teaches in the graduate program and serves on the Graduate Student Admissions Committee, the Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Executive Committee, and the Postdoctoral Awards Review Committee, and she co-chairs the Faculty HOL Luncheon Series.
Please join me in congratulating Priya on her very well-deserved promotion!
With best wishes,
Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.
Carson Family Professor
Laboratory of Human Genetics and Genomics
The Rockefeller University