The Jung Foundation for Science and Research is awarding Professor Pietro De Camilli, M.D. the 2019 Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine. The Italian-born neuroscientist from Yale University is receiving the medal for his life’s work on the molecular basis of intracellular membrane dynamics. The award comes with a grant of 30,000 euros, which De Camilli can give to a young scientist of his choice.

Exploring the inner world of neurons

Pietro De Camilli is the John Klingenstein Professor of Neuroscience, Professor of Cell Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at the School of Medicine and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience of Yale University in New Haven, USA. Throughout his career, he has been working on molecular mechanisms underlying the traffic of intracellular membranes responsible for secretion and for the internalization of material from the extracellular world. He was particularly interested in how these fundamental properties have been adapted in neurons to support the special and unique functions of the nervous system. Results of his studies had broad implications in both cell biology and basic neuroscience and produced a number of key medical insights.

Born and raised in Italy, he studied medicine at the University of Milan and carried our postdoctoral studies with Paul Greengard at Yale. Early in his career, he contributed to the molecular characterization of synaptic vesicles, the specialized vesicles that store and secrete neurotransmitters at neuronal synapses.  During this time he discovered that a neurotransmitter metabolizing enzyme, glutamate decarboxylase, is an autoantigen both in a severe neurological condition and in diabetes mellitus. Subsequently, De Camilli devoted himself to study mechanisms through which membranes of synaptic vesicles are reused after each cycle of secretion. He elucidated crucial steps of such recycling, including the occurrence of metabolic changes of lipid components of these membranes. Prompted by these findings, recently he became interested the control of membrane lipid homeostasis and advanced knowledge about mechanisms of lipid transport between membranes. De Camilli is married and has three children. It was the love of nature and the desire to understand it that motivated him to study biology and medicine. Today, he still enjoys his free time gardening and spending time on the coast by his home in Connecticut and hiking in the Alps of his Italian homeland during the summer.