Joshua Sanes Wins Cowan Award at 2019 SfN Meeting

Published Date: 
October 29, 2019

The W. Maxwell Cowan Awards was established by John Wiley and Sons in 2004 to honor two past Editors-in-Chief of The Journal of Comparative Neurology (JCN). The Award is given by a jury, consisting of the Editors of the Journal of Comparative Neurology and the Officers of the Cajal Club, every other year at the Cajal Club Annual Meeting at the Society for Neuroscience convention.

Previous winners have included:

2005 Carla J. Shatz
2007 Andres Lumsden
2009 Thomas M. Jessell
2011 Marc Tessier-Lavigne
2011 Special Cowan Lifetime Achievement Award: Edward G. (Ted) Jones
2013 Pasko Rakic
2015 Mary Beth Hatten
2017 Fred H. Gage


Dr Sanes is interested in the molecular mechanisms and structural features that regulate synapse formation, addressing how Information processing in the brain occurs at synapses, and how abnormal synapse formation results in neurological and psychiatric disorders. He has developed an interdisciplinary approach that combines molecular biology, chemistry, genetics, engineering, and psychology to investigate systems-level questions in neuroscience with a focus on the assembly and function of neural circuits in the retina and on synapse formation, maturation, and remodeling at the skeletal neuromuscular junction. To understand how these circuits form, Dr Sanes uses transgenic methods to identify retinal cell types and map their connections, as well as genetic methods to manipulate molecules that mediate the connectivity of these neurons, to assess the consequences of modifying the molecular determinants of these neuronal network at the structural and functional levels. Finally, Dr. Sanes is also studying the retina to explore the issue of neuronal classification and nomenclature. This remains a complicated problem for neuroscience that is far from being resolved. He uses high-throughput single-cell RNA sequencing to profile tens of thousands of retinal cells, with bioinformatics methods to categorize them. This led to the emergence of a mouse “retinome”, which can serve as a framework for neuronal classification, not solely in the mouse but extending to other species, such as primates, whose retinal structure differs significantly from that of rodents, and consequently to the analysis of gene expression in animal models of blindness and retinopathies with a cellular level of specificity. The approaches developed by Dr. Sanes and his collaborators have been highly influential as they enabled studies of development, functional plasticity, and vulnerability to disease states of larger complex structures like the cerebral cortex, as well as less accessible brain regions.