Recognized for illuminating neural circuits underlying behavior
From the WashU Newsroom…
Timothy E. Holy, PhD, has been named the inaugural Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. His research has provided valuable insight into how chemical cues are used for social communication.
He was installed as the Wolff Professor by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.
“Alan and Edith Wolff have provided extraordinary support for biomedical research and medical students at this university,” Wrighton said. “It is a privilege to have this professorship in their name. The inaugural holder of this professorship, Timothy Holy, is an innovative and gifted scientist. We are fortunate to be able to recognize and support Tim’s outstanding work with this endowed chair.”
A pioneer in imaging the nervous system, Holy developed a technique to visualize the activity of thousands of neurons at once and then used it to elucidate the neuronal circuitry involved when animals detect and recognize chemical compounds released by other members of their species. These compounds communicate information that triggers a change in behavior.
“Tim’s work has been transformational more than once,” Perlmutter said. “His studies of how individual molecules influence the complex olfactory system provide a model for studies on many other aspects of biology. And his development of a kind of light-sheet microscopy changed the way we see neuronal circuits.”
To better analyze the vast data generated by his imaging technique, Holy helped develop a new computer language named “Julia.”
“Tim has distinguished himself through creative breakthroughs in several fields: neuronal imaging, olfaction and computational science,” said Azad Bonni, MD, PhD, the Edison Professor and head of the Department of Neuroscience. “Tim is a brilliant scientist. His approach to neuroscience is quantitative and highly analytical, but he also brings an acute intuition to bear in solving the problem at hand. His research is distinguished by a very high level of creativity and rigor.”
Holy first developed a form of optical microscopy in 2008 that uses a sheet of light to image 3-D volumes at a resolution high enough to distinguish individual cells. Since then, he has continued to fine-tune the technique to record the activity of ever-increasing numbers of cells. His laboratory claims to have held the world record for most single neurons ever recorded at one time.
He has done groundbreaking work on the neuronal circuitry underlying the ability to identify patterns and form memories. His work focuses on how animals recognize and respond to pheromones, chemical compounds that influence reproductive and aggressive behavior. Recently, his laboratory identified a new family of female pheromones.