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The annual lecture was given in honour of Sir Charles Sherrington, who was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, by the 2013 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine.

L-R: Head of Department Professor David Paterson, Sherrington Prize lecturer Professor Thomas C. Südhof and Waynfele Professor of Physiology Professor Gero Miesenböck following presentation of Sherrington Prize Medal

On Friday 29 April 2022, the Department hosted the annual Sir Charles Sherrington Prize Lecture - "The cell-adhesion code that underlies the molecular logic of synapse formation" by Professor Thomas Südhof, MD ForMemRS Nobel Laureate. Professor Südhof is Avram Goldstein Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine (SUSM) and Director of SUSM's Centre for Molecular Neuroscience in Health and Disease. 


Südhof received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2013 with James E. Rothman and Randy W. Schekman for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells. The cells inside our bodies produce a host of different molecules that are sent to specific sites. During transport, many of these molecules are grouped together in tiny sac-like structures called vesicles. These vesicles help transport substances to different places inside the cell and send molecules from the cell's surface as signals to other cells in the body. By studying brain cells from mice, in the 1990s Thomas Südhof demonstrated how vesicles are held in place, ready to release signal-bearing molecules at the right moment.

The Südhof Laboratory presently studies how synapses form in the brain, how their properties are specified, and how they accomplish the rapid and precise signaling that forms the basis for all information processing by the brain. The establishment and specification of synapses, their properties and plasticity determine the input-output relations of neural circuits, and thus underlie all brain function. Moreover, increasing evidence links impairments in synaptic transmission to disorders such as Alzheimer’s diseases, schizophrenia, and autism. 


Sir Charles Sherrington (1857 - 1952) first coined the term “synapse” to name the Cajal description of interneuronal contact. Sherrington came to the Department in 1913 as the Waynflete Professor of Physiology. Sherrington was recommended for the chair unanimously without any other candidates being considered. He said of Oxford that its real function in the world “is to teach…what is not yet known”.

Sherrington received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932 with Edgar Adrian for their work on the functions of neurons. Prior to the work of Sherrington and Adrian, it was widely accepted that reflexes occurred as isolated activity within a reflex arc; instead Sherrington and Adrian showed that reflexes require integrated activation and demonstrated reciprocal innervation of muscles, a principle now known as Sherrington's Law. 


After the lecture, attendees gathered for a drinks reception in the Sherrington reception foyer, where Südhof took time to meet with postdoctoral researchers and students who had attended the lecture. Taking advantage of a fine Spring evening, many enjoyed the opportunity to network with the Nobel Laureate outside by The Physiological Society Sir Charles Sherrington Blue Plaque, which had previously been unveiled by Waynflete Professor of Physiology and last year's Sherrington Prize lecturer, Professor Gero Miesenböck.


The 2022 Lecture in Sherrington's honour followed Professor David Paterson's unveiling of an Oxfordshire Blue Plaque to commemorate Sir Charles Scott Sherrington at his long-time Oxford residence, 9 Chadlington Road, on Thursday 28 April 2022.