We spoke to the Bristol professor who won a €1million prize in neuroscience

It’s the neuroscience equivalent of the Nobel prize

Bristol Professor Collingridge was part of a neuroscience team of three individuals that has been awarded a prestigious Euro brain prize worth €1 million.

Professor Graham Collingridge

Graham, along with Tim Bliss and Richard Morris focused their research on a specific mechanism within the brain known as Long Term Potentiation (LTP), and investigated how strengthened connections between cells in the brain helps us to store memories.

The team demonstrated that LTP is the foundation for our ability to learn and form memories, and that strengthened connections between the brain help to facilitate this.

We spoke to Professor Collingridge about his work and how its importance in the development of our understanding of cognitive function and the forming of memories.

What was the aim of your project?

My goal was to try to understand a process known as long-term potentiation (LTP) that had been discovered in the late 1960’s by Tim Bliss (a co-recipient of the prize)

I has previously been an undergraduate in the amazing Department of Pharmacology at the University of Bristol, led by Professor James Mitchell, where I developed my passion for neuroscience.

What is your project aiming to do and where will you take it from here?

We know that activation of the NMDA receptor is the initial trigger for LTP and other forms of synaptic plasticity.

 I am trying to establish the subsequent steps in the process – this is highly complex since it involves hundred of different proteins and other molecules that interact in space (at the level of individual synapses, which are about one thousandth of a millimetre in size) and time (with a time scale ranging from milliseconds to lifetimes).

Why is your project important for neuroscience and for our understanding of memories in general? 

First, because most people are interested in understanding what makes us tick.  Nothing defines a human individual more than their memories. 

Second, because errors in the process of synaptic plasticity seems to be the cause, or at least a contributing factor, to many of the most severe neurological and psychiatric conditions that inflict the human race.

I believe that the early changes in the brain that underlies Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions are due to an imbalance between LTP and LTD mechanisms.

So by understanding LTP and LTD in greater detail we should be better placed to find more effective treatments for these conditions.

What does this prize mean for you work going forward? 

The prize brings recognition to the field of research and to the institutions where the researcher works.  In my case, most of my research career has been spent at the University of Bristol.  So this is good news for basic science, the University of Bristol and, of course, the recipients.