UCSF Neuroscience Graduate Receives Prestigious Weintraub Award

Kay Tye

Recent UCSF graduate Kay Tye, PhD, is one of 13 young scientists from North America selected this year to receive the prestigious Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award. The award is sponsored by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and is given to students at or near the completion of a graduate degree in the biological sciences. Tye, who graduated from UCSF in 2008 with a PhD degree in neuroscience, was selected for her research into the role of a particular brain region, the amygdala, in the early stages of cue-reward learning. That type of learning involves the process whereby the brain associates environmental cues with rewarding events, such as food, social interactions, and the pleasurable sensations produced by drugs and alcohol. “Kay’s general approach was particularly innovative because she looked at neural changes during the first few hours of learning, the very initial steps – something that had not been done before,” said Patricia Janak, PhD, a UCSF associate neurology professor who served as Tye’s thesis adviser and wrote a letter to the Weintraub Award committee in her behalf. Working out of two UCSF labs – Janak’s and that of Antonello Bonci, MD, neurology professor – Tye found that the synapses, or connections between neurons, in the amygdala grow stronger as cue-reward learning takes place. Her data were published in the June 26, 2008, issue of Nature. “Kay single-handedly managed this project,” Janak said. “She was the driving force behind its success and navigated the experimental and publication aspects with aplomb.”

Kay Tye at work in lab.

Tye and her fellow award recipients will present their research at a scientific symposium on May 1 at the Hutchinson Center in Seattle. Awardees will receive a certificate, travel expenses and an honorarium from the center’s Weintraub and Groudine Fund, established to foster intellectual exchange by promoting programs for graduate students, fellows and visiting scholars. Born and raised in Ithaca, New York, Tye earned a bachelor’s degree from MIT, where she studied brain and cognitive sciences. After graduating in 2003, she spent the next year traveling and doing volunteer work before arriving at UCSF in 2004. Since graduating, she has been continuing her research during a temporary postdoctoral stint in the Bonci Lab. “Kay is motivated by the twin engines of interest and dedication to science and the strong drive for personal achievement,” Janak said. “She’s somebody we’re all going to be watching in the years to come.” The Weintraub Award, established in 2000, honors the late Harold M. Weintraub, PhD, a founding member of the Hutchinson Center’s Basic Sciences Division, who died of brain cancer in 1995 at age 49. Weintraub was an international leader in the field of molecular biology whose achievements included identifying the genes responsible for instructing cells to differentiate, or develop, into specific tissues such as muscle and bone. Tye is the sixth UCSF graduate to receive a Weintraub Award since 2000, according to the Hutchinson Center website. Previous recipients were Jonathan Alexander in 2000; Maxwell Heiman in 2002; Sally Horne-Badovinac and Matthew G. Miller in 2003; and Laura A.B. Elias and Ethan C. Garner in 2008.

Rapid Strengthening of Thalamo-Amygdala Synapses

Mediates Cue–Reward Learning Kay M. Tye, Garret D. Stuber, Bram de Ridder, Antonello Bonci & Patricia H. Janak
Nature (June 26, 2008) 453:1253-1257
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Related Links:

UCSF Neuroscience Graduate Program

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center