Dr. Ryohei Yasuda Named Max Planck Florida Institute Scientific Director

March 7, 2012

Jupiter, FL, March 7, 2012 – The Max Planck Florida Institute (MPFI) announced today that Duke University neuroscientist Ryohei Yasuda, PhD will join the Institute as Scientific Director of the Neuronal Signal Transduction Research Group. Dr. Yasuda will be the third Scientific Director for the Institute, joining CEO David Fitzpatrick, PhD and Nobel laureate Bert Sakmann, MD, PhD in this role, which provides unparalleled long-term research support and scientific freedom.  Dr. Yasuda’s appointment was announced during the inaugural MPFI-International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) scientific symposium, “Neural Circuits: From Molecules to Behavior,” at which he spoke.

Dr. Yasuda will join MPFI in Summer 2012, along with new research group leaders Hyungbae Kwon, PhD and Hiroki Taniguchi, PhD, when the Institute moves into its new state-of-the-art research facility in Jupiter, Florida.  Dr. Yasuda’s addition means that MPFI will have nine research groups, each dedicated to investigating different aspects of the structure and function of neural circuits.  One of the ultimate challenges in biology is to understand neural circuits, which form the complex synaptic networks of the brain and determine who we are, how we think, and how we behave.

“To be part of the Max Planck Society and the Max Planck Florida Institute is a tremendous honor, and will enable me to join a great community of leading scientists,” says Dr. Yasuda. “This appointment will allow me to explore new collaborations that will lead to new and exciting directions for my research.”

Dr. Yasuda comes to MPFI from Duke University, where he is an assistant professor and directs a Department of Neurobiology laboratory focused on molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity. He also serves as one of only 50 researchers across the U.S. recognized as an Early Career Scientist by Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Dr. Yasuda’s lab examines the molecular basis of synaptic plasticity, the ability of the connections between neurons to strengthen or weaken, a property that is thought to underlie learning and memory. Abnormalities in synaptic plasticity may contribute to a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders. His research looks at behaviors of proteins involved in synaptic plasticity within dendritic spines – small bristles on the surface of neurons that receive synaptic signals. In dendritic spines, a number of proteins play roles in triggering a chain of biochemical reactions necessary for changing the strength of synaptic connections.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Yasuda is joining our Institute,” says David Fitzpatrick, PhD, Scientific Director and CEO of the Institute, and leader of the research group, Functional Architecture and Development of Cerebral Cortex.  “His research has important implications for understanding the molecular mechanisms that shape brain function and adds an exciting new dimension to the range of technologies that the institute is advancing.”

A biophysicist by training, Dr. Yasuda has made a number of significant discoveries, including groundbreaking work in developing molecular imaging technologies.  While a graduate student at Japan’s Keio University, he demonstrated that the enzyme F1-ATPase, which produces the molecule that provides cells with energy, is a single-molecule rotary motor, and also confirmed that the molecule is completely thermodynamically efficient. While completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, he built a sophisticated imaging device to view protein interactions in living cells with high sensitivity and resolution using fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)—the transfer of energy from one fluorescent molecule to another.  At Duke University, he developed a number of fluorescent indicator molecules that allowed him to image the activity of proteins within single dendritic spines.

Dr. Yasuda completed postdoctoral fellowships at both Cold Spring Harbor and Keio University, where he also earned his doctorate and completed undergraduate training. He has received numerous honors including the Career Award at the Scientific Interface from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund; Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship; New Investigator Award from the Alzheimer’s Association; and Research Award for Innovative Neuroscience from the Society for Neuroscience. He has been Principal Investigator (PI) on a number of National Institutes of Health grants, and has published 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers and book chapters. Among the leading journals to publish his work are Nature, Science, Cell, Neuron, Nature Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Journal of Neuroscience. He is currently review editor of Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience and is on the neurobiology faculty of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

About the Max Planck Florida Institute
The first institute established by Germany’s prestigious Max Planck Society outside of Europe, the Max Planck Florida Institute is also the first research institute of its kind in North America.  MPFI seeks to provide new insight into the functional organization of the nervous system, its capacity to produce perception, thought, language, memory, emotion, and action. Neural circuits, the complex synaptic networks of the brain, hold the key to understanding who we are, why we behave the way we do, and how the debilitating effects of neurological and psychiatric disorders can be ameliorated. MPFI meets this challenge by forging links between different levels of analysis—genetic, molecular, cellular, circuit, and behavioral—and developing new technologies that make cutting edge scientific discoveries possible. For more information, visit www.maxplanckflorida.org.