Eric Kandel Biography

Neurobiologist and professor

Born Eric Richard Kandel, November 7, 1929, in Vienna, Austria; son of Herman Kandel and Charlotte Zimels; married Denise Bystryn, c. 1956; children: Paul, Minouche (daughter). Education: Graduated from Harvard College (history and literature), 1952; New York University School of Medicine, MD, 1956; attended Columbia University.

Addresses: Office —Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University, 1051 Riverside Dr., New York, NY 10032. E-mail —


Researcher, National Institutes of Health Laboratory of Neurophysiology, 1957; resident in psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, 1960-64; staff psychiatrist, Harvard Medical School, 1964-65; associate professor, department of physiology and psychiatry, New York University, 1965-68; professor, New York University, 1968-74; professor, department of physiology and psychiatry, New York University, 1974—; director, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University, 1974-84; professor, Columbia University, 1983—; senior investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University, 1984—; co-founded Memory Pharmaceuticals, 1998.

Member: National Academy of Sciences.

Awards: Henry L. Moses Research Award, Montefiore Hospital, 1959; Lester N. Hofheimer Prize for Research, 1977; Lucy G. Moses Prize for Research in

Eric Kandel
Basic Neurology, 1977; Solomon A. Berson Medical Alumni Achievement Award, 1979; Karl Spencer Lashley Prize in Neurobiology, 1981; The Dickson Prize in Biology and Medicine. 1982; Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (shared with V.B. Mountcastle), 1983; Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work (shared with D. Koshland), 1984; Howard Crosby Warren Medal, 1984; American Association of Medical Colleges Award, 1985; Gairdner International Award for Outstanding Achievements in Medical Science, 1987; National Medal of Science, 1988; Gold Medal for Scientific Merit, 1988; Distinguished Service Award of the American Psychiatric Association, 1989; Award in Basic Science, American College of Physicians, 1989; Robert J. and Clarie Pasarow Foundation Award in Neuroscience, 1989; Diploma Internacional Cajal, 1990; Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research (shared with T.V.M. Bliss), 1991; Warren Triennial Prize, 1992; Jean-Louis Signoret's Prize on Memory, 1992; Harvey Prize, 1993; F.O. Schmitt Medal and Prize in Neuroscience, 1993; Stevens Triennial Prize, 1995; New York Academy of Medicine Award, 1996; Gerard Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Neuroscience, 1997; Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Health (shared with Paul Greengard), 1997; Wolf Prize in Biology and Medicine, Israel, 1999; A.H. Heineken Prize for medicine, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2000; Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (shared with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard), 2000.


Eric Kandel's groundbreaking research revealed what happens to the brain when memories are formed. Kandel explored how nerve cells (neurons) change during learning. His research involving the sea slug Aplysia and mice uncovered the basis of short and long-term memory. Kandel shared the 2000 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine with fellow neuroscientists Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel's research could lead to the development of treatments for Alzheimer's disease and other conditions related to memory loss.

Eric Richard Kandel is the youngest of two sons born to Herman Kandel and Charlotte Zimels. He was born November 7, 1929, in Vienna, Austria, five years after his brother, Lewis. His father owned a toy store where both parents worked. His experiences as a Jewish boy later sparked a fascination with "the mind, how people behave, the unpredictability of emotion, and the persistence of memory," according to Kandel's autobiography, which is posted on the Nobel Prize website. Kandel was eight years old when Adolf Hitler marched into Austria on March 14, 1938. The leader of the Nazi Party received an "enthusiastic greeting" from thousands of people. Mobs attacked Jews and destroyed their property. The next day, only one classmate talked to Kandel. When he went to the park to play, boys roughed him up. Kandel acknowledged that his was a "mild example" of what Jewish people experienced when Hitler was in power.

Kandel's ninth birthday was the day before Kristallnacht, an intense night of violence against Jewish people. Police arrested Jewish men, including Kandel's father. Jewish families were temporarily evicted from their homes. Kandel's father, who had served in World War I, was released several days later. After about a week, the family received permission to return home. Everything valuable had been stolen.

In 1939, the Kandels left Austria and moved to Brooklyn, New York, where they lived with Charlotte's parents. Herman worked in a toothbrush factory and then opened a clothing store. Their sons attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush, a Jewish elementary school. Kandel graduated from the elementary school in 1944 and became a United States citizen during the mid-1940s. He attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Encouraged by a history teacher, Kandel applied to Harvard. The university accepted Kandel and gave him a scholarship. At Harvard, Kandel majored in 19th and 20th century European history and literature. He intended to do graduate research on European intellectual history but his plan changed when he met Anna Kris, a student from Vienna. Her parents, Ernest and Marianne, were psychoanalysts who knew Sigmund Freud. Kandel began to think psychoanalysis offered another approach to understanding the mind and memory. He decided to become a psychoanalyst.

After graduating from Harvard in 1952, Kandel entered New York University's medical school. By his senior year there, Kandel's career direction changed again. He felt he needed to learn more about the biology of the mind. NYU did not have a faculty member working with basic neural science, so Kandel studied that subject at Columbia University in New York City. In 1955, he began working in the Columbia lab with Harry Grundfest. Kandel was encouraged in that work by a new Jewish friend whose family fled the Nazis. Denise Bystryn was a French woman who met Kandel while she studied at Columbia for a doctorate in medical sociology. Kandel graduated from medical school in 1956 and married Bystryn. He then divided his time between a medical residency at Montefiore Hospital and work at the lab. In 1957, Kandel began doing research at the National Institutes of Health Laboratory of Neurophysiology.

Kandel's early research focused on the biology of cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain related to memory. After working with mammals, Kandel wanted to take a biological approach and do a less complicated study. That work would initially involve invertebrates, creatures with no backbones. Some neurobiologists and psychologists thought Kandel was making a mistake, one that would hurt his career. They believed that a mammal's brain was so complex that research results could not be compared with studies involving invertebrates. Kandel knew that some comparative behavior researchers like Konrad Lorenz discovered that humans and simple animals sometimes behaved the same way when they learned. Kandel reasoned that since nothing was known about the cell biology of learning, that any insight would be highly informative. After researching subjects including crayfish, lobsters, and snails, Kandel decided to concentrate on Aplysia . While the human brain contains billions of nerve cells, the sea slug only has 20,000.

Kandel arranged to study in Paris, France, with Ladislav Tauc, one of two researchers working with Aplysia . Before going to France, Kandel needed to complete a two-year residency in psychiatry. In 1960, he began residency training at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center of Harvard Medical School. The following year, Denise gave birth to Paul, the Kandels' first child. In September of 1962, Kandel took his family to Paris.

In France, Kandel and Tauc started research on the gill-withdrawal reflex of the sea slug. Aplysia, which are five inches long, breathe through gills. If the slug is touched on or near the gill, it instinctively protects itself by withdrawing and covering the gill area with a skin flap. Stimulus used to cause the reflex included touching the tail or injecting a needle. Repeatedly touching the Aplysia eventually caused the slug to withdraw less. After 16 months in Paris, Kandel returned to Harvard Medical School. He served on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry until 1965. That year, he joined the faculty of New York University as an associate professor. Furthermore, his daughter, Minouche, was born in 1965. Three years later, Kandel was named a professor at NYU.

In 1974, Kandel was invited to serve as founding director of the Columbia University's Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. In addition to work as a professor, Kandel would research memory. Kandel wanted to know how Aplysia learned to avoid the reflex. At Columbia, his gill-withdrawal research showed that memory and learning were the result of changes in the synapse, the place where there is contact between adjacent neurons. The lab showed that cells communicate by signal transduction, meaning a message is sent from one cell to another through chemical transmitters. The signal transfer occurs at the synapse. A weaker stimulus in slugs resulted in short-term memory that lasted several hours or days. Short-term memory involved a process called adenosine monophosphate (AMP). A stronger stimulus produced long-term memory that lasted weeks. Kandel's lab discovered that memory was triggered by variations of a molecule called CREB (cyclic-AMP-response element-binding protein). CREB changes the short-term memory into a long-term memory that in humans can last months or years. In that process, the shape of the synapse changes.

Kandel left the lab in 1984 to become a senior investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Columbia. He continued to research and teach. During the 1990s, Kandel broadened his research to include mice. The mice experienced many of the changes that Aplysia did, indicating that findings about memory applied to mammals. Mouse research showed that a process called long-term potentiation (LTP) increased the efficiency of signals that neurons send to the brain. LTP is essential in the area of the brain that holds memories of people, places, and things. Kandel's research could lead to the development of treatments for memory-related conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

In 1998, Kandel co-founded Memory Pharmaceuticals with Dr. Walter Gilbert, a Nobel Laureate and Harvard professor specializing in molecular genetics. The company, licensed in agreement with Columbia University, explores drug treatments for memory disorders.

In 2000, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Kandel, American Paul Greengard, and Arvin Carlsson of Sweden. They were honored for career achievements in research related to "signal transduction in the nervous system." Kandel's other honors include the National Medal of Science and the Lasker Prize.

In March of 2003, Memory Pharmaceuticals announced that the drug company Roche would do clinical studies on MEM1414, a compound discovered by Memory Pharmaceuticals. Studies on the chemical mixture targeted for the treatment of Alzheimer's could lead to the development of drugs to treat the condition. While there was no pill to improve memory on the market as of December of 2004, hope was in sight. The drugs were in the early stages of clinical trials that could be finished in as little as "two years, if we're lucky," Kandel told Newsweek 's Mary Carmichael.

Selected writings

(With Thomas M. Jessell and James H. Schwartz) Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior, McGraw Hill, 1995.

(Editor with Thomas M. Jessell and James H. Schwartz) Principles of Neural Science, McGraw Hill, 2000.

(With Larry R. Squire) Memory: From Mind to Molecules, W.H. Henry Holt, 2000.



Bolhuis, Johan J., editor, Brain, Perception, Memory: Advances in Cognitive Neuroscience, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Czerner, Thomas B., What makes you tick? The brain in plain English, Wiley, 2001.


BusinessWeek, October 25, 2004.

Newsweek, December 6, 2004, p. 44.

New York Times, October 10, 2000.


"Eric Kandel,", (December 9, 2004).

"Making Memories," Web MD, (December 9, 2004).

—Liz Swain

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