Fernando Nottebohm

Fernando Nottebohm, Ph.D.

Rockefeller University

Dorothea L. Leonhardt Professor

Head of the Laboratory of Animal Behavior

Director of the Field Research Center for Ecology and Ethology

“That was a real shock, because we had all been taught that an adult brain was supposed to stay the same size, with the same cells, forever.  It was one the few uncontested facts about the brain. So how could it get bigger? That contradicted everything I had ever learned.” – Nottebohm after discovering differential growth in certain brain regions of songbirds

Fernando Nottebohm has established himself alongside some of the most noted scientists in the field of neuroscience. Perhaps his most famous discovery is that neurogenesis occurs in the adult vertebrate brain. This finding challenged the firmly-held belief that the proliferation, migration, and integration of new neurons in adults is impossible.

Nottebohm took a new and unusual approach to studying neurogenesis by incorporating an animal model using songbirds. Not only was this animal model the first of its kind to study vocal learning, but it also led him to the discovery that neurons in the adult brain are replaceable. Nottebohm has studied every aspect of neuronal replacement, including the behavioral, anatomical, hormonal, cellular, and molecular variables under which the process is controlled. The implications of his grand discovery are far-reaching, and so Nottebohm continues to study the mechanisms by which neuronal replacement occurs, as well as how it could potentially compensate for injury. Recently, Nottebohm’s lab created the first genetically-altered (transgenic) songbird, which has proven to be remarkably translatable to mammalian systems. Research with this animal has yielded the now well-accepted theory that new neurons are continuously born in the adult vertebrate brain and, depending on the area from which they are produced, can integrate into an existing nerve cell population.

Career Milestones:

1966 – Received his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of California, Berkeley

1967 – Began teaching at Rockefeller University

2006 – Recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Sciences, The Franklin Institute



The Rockefeller University website: http://www.rockefeller.edu/research/faculty/abstract.php?id=133

Specter, M. (2001). Rethinking the Brain. The New Yorker, July 23, 2001, 42-53.

Photo: http://images.the-scientist.com/content/images/articles/24844/65-1.jpg

Page by Emma Laird

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