Ann Graybiel’s groundbreaking discoveries regarding the physiology of the brain are fundamental to modern medicine’s understanding of some of the world’s most common — and pernicious — ailments. Born to a medical doctor who helped early astronauts prepare for the physical stresses of space travel, Graybiel would pursue a similar path. She studied biology and chemistry at Harvard University, before receiving a PhD in psychology and brain science from MIT in 1971. She soon joined the faculty at MIT, and remains there today. Graybiel’s research has largely focused on understanding the basal ganglia, a structure of the forebrain that controls movement, mood, habit formation and cognition. By using diverse research methods including electrical recordings, behavioral tests and gene-based approaches, Graybiel was able to map and define neuronal circuits and determine how they influence behavior. Her work has helped scientists better understand and treat disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction.
By Sara Grossman