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Graybiel is appointed to first Rosenblith chair

Ann M. Graybiel, an internationally respected neuroscientist whose research on the structure of the brain has advanced the understanding of brain regions involved in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, has been named the first holder of a new academic chair-the Walter A. Rosenblith Professorship.

The chair honors Institute Professor Emeritus and Provost Emeritus Walter Alter Rosenblith, who pioneered the use of mathematical models in the study of the brain as a biophysical information-handling system. He played a central role in developing the health sciences and biomedical engineering disciplines at MIT and in forging MIT's collaboration with other universities and medical institutions.

Provost Mark S. Wrighton, who announced the establishment of the chair and Professor Graybiel's appointment to it, said the benefactor whose gift established the professorship wishes to remain anonymous.

"With the establishment of this professorship we recognize one of MIT's distinguished academic leaders," Professor Wrighton said. "Walter Rosenblith has contributed to the development of the Institute, the national and international science and engineering enterprise, and the development of new areas of intellectual activity. I am grateful to the lead donor for the resources which make possible the professorship.

"The inaugural chairholder, Professor Ann Graybiel, is an individual of great distinction who has already contributed significantly to our understanding of the human brain. Professor Graybiel's appointment will encourage further advanced research and recognize the achievements of an eminent scholar and educator. I am grateful for her continuing presence on the MIT faculty and for the contributions she has made. Her appointment as Walter A. Rosenblith Professor signals herlead role in an area of great significance."


Dr. Graybiel, a professor of neuroanatomy in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, is regarded as a world leader in her field. In the 1980s, she and her group discovered chemical compartments (striosomal compartments) lying deep in the forebrain, in the region called the basal ganglia. This is the part of the brain that suffers damage in major neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. The basal ganglia are also likely to be involved in neuropsychiatric disorders.

The chemical compartments discovered by Dr. Graybiel now are thought to be sites of selective early vulnerability in Huntington's disease. Direct links have also been made between the compartments and the development and maintenance of the dopamine system, which degenerates in Parkinson's disease and is disordered in schizophrenia. These findings have made Professor Graybiel's laboratory a new focus of clinical interest and prompted collaborations with molecular biologists. There are now many laboratories across the world studying the compartments delineated by the work Professor Graybiel directed, work that was cited when she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was elected this year to the Institute of Medicine. She was also elected an honorary member of Spain's Royal Academy of Medicine in 1989.

Recent work by the Graybiel group has shown that the compartmental architecture of the basal ganglia represents a general organizational principle that may be used to sort modular motor programs. This discovery has attracted the interest of computational neuroscientists to the basal ganglia as a promising system for studying how the brain controls bodily movement.

Professor Graybiel holds the AB degree from Harvard, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, (1964) and the PhD from MIT (1971). She was at Tufts University in 1965-66 on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.


Professor Rosenblith is recognized as an international statesman of science. A native of Austria (born in 1913), he studied in Vienna, Berlin, Lausanne, Paris and Bordeaux. He holds degrees in communications engineering from the University of Bordeaux, France (1936), and from the Ecole Superieure d'Electricite, Paris (1937). His subsequent research led him into psychophysics and neurophysiology. In 1939 he came to the United States to study the effects of industrial noise on humans.

He is one of only a handful of scholars who are members of all the major academies in the United States-the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine, of which he was a charter member.

He came to MIT in 1951 as an associate professor of communications biophysics in what was then the Department of Electrical Engineering, and as a staff member of the Research Laboratory of Electronics and the MIT Acoustics Laboratory. He served as provost from 1971-1980.

A version of this article appeared in the November 9, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 11).

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