PhD honoris causa recipient: Prof. Jean-Pierre Changeux

Distinguished French neuroscientist, recipient of a PhD honoris causa

People behind the science

November 7, 2016
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Prof. Jean-Pierre Changeux is a renowned neuroscientist and an influential cultural figure at the interface between science and the humanities, and between the scientific community and the general public.

His research established the basis for understanding the mechanism of nicotine dependency, the effect of nicotine on learning, and the role of nervous system receptors in relation to pain, Alzheimer’s disease, and the aging process.

Changeux was born in Domont, France. As a graduate student at Institut Pasteur under the guidance of Jacques Monod and François Jacob, he made his mark by defining and providing experimental evidence for allostery, a fundamental concept in biochemistry, biology, and applied pharmacology. Together with Monod and Jeffries Wyman, he proposed a plausible model to describe the phenomenon in a paper that has been cited more than 6,500 times.

He received his PhD in 1964 and continued to postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California-Berkeley and at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. Changeux returned to the Institut Pasteur in 1967, where he remains since. He also served as professor at the College de France from 1975 through 2006.

Changeux's research findings have proved essential to the understanding of synapse formation, plasticity over time and during aging, and of mental disorders; and have shed new light on crucial factors associated with child development and education. His research formed the basis for clinical tests now underway with nicotine-based drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, pain, and tobacco addiction. In addition, he has used computational modeling to understand the neurobiological basis of cognitive functions, work which has inspired new research on the effects of general anesthetics and drug addiction.

A prominent collector of 17th Century French art, Changeux curated an exhibition at Le Grand Palais in Paris. He has authored several books that synthesize his scientific and philosophical perspectives, including Neuronal Man, which has been translated into many languages. His multi-faceted oeuvre consists of more than 600 scientific articles and several books, both scientific and for the general audience.

His numerous awards include the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 1982; the Carl-Gustav-Bernhard medal of the Swedish Academy of Science in 1991; the CNRS Gold medal in 1992; the Balzan Prize for Cognitive Neurosciences in 2001; the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science in 2005; the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) Award in the Neurosciences in 2007; the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) award for eminent scientists in 2012; and many others. He is also a member of many international scientific academies and holds honorary degrees from leading institutions worldwide.

For more than 40 years, Changeux has been a steadfast friend to Israel and to the Weizmann Institute, and a valued colleague and mentorto Institute scientists.