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Tibor Harkany awarded CINP Sumitomo/Sunovion Brain Health Basic Research Prize

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(Vienna, 29 April 2020) Tibor Harkany, Head of the Division of Molecular Neurosciences at MedUni Vienna's Center for Brain Research has been awarded the CINP Sumitomo/Sunovion Brain Health Basic Research Prize by the International College of Neuropsychopharmacology (CINP). The prize, which is awarded for outstanding achievements in the field of psychopharmacology, will be presented at the 32nd World Congress in Taipei, Taiwan (February 2021).

Tibor Harkany is one of the world's leading neurobiologists to study the developmental consequences of maternal drug abuse during pregnancy, with the emphasis on cannabis and psychostimulants.

In particular, this award recognises his work on how Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) impacts brain development on a molecular basis and imposes life-long modifications to the cortical circuitry.

THC, the major psychoactive constituent of cannabis, targets cannabinoid receptors in the body, which are key components of the endocannabinoid signalling system. Dr Harkany's early contributions addressed the developmental dynamics of endocannabinoid signalling, showing, in particular, that endocannabinoid action on cannabinoid receptors affects neuronal migration and differentiation in the cerebral cortex (PNAS, 2005/2008; J Neurosi 2010; Nat Commun 2014). He has demonstrated that endocannabinoids act as repulsive cues for directional axonal growth and are therefore important in shaping neuronal connectivity in the developing brain (Science, 2007). He subsequently applied this knowledge to identify the nascent axon as the compartment most affected by THC action, and described the molecular mechanism by which THC impairs cytoskeletal dynamics to inhibit axonal growth (EMBOJ, 2014).

He has also shown that THC acts as a "functional antagonist" by preventing endocannabinoid binding on cannabinoid receptors, thus muting endocannabinoid signalling. His findings in Drosophila and mouse models, as well as in human foetal brains, highlighted that THC-containing cannabis preparations have predominantly adverse effects on the developing brain. He has also shown that developmental deficits due to impaired endocannabinoid signalling are permanent in model organisms (EMBOJ, 2014; Mol Psychiatry, 2020), reflecting data from human longitudinal studies from the past two decades.

About Tibor Harkany
Tibor Harkany has been Professor of Molecular Neurosciences and Head of the division of the same name at MedUni Vienna's Center for Brain Research since November 2013. Prior to that, he was Professor of Neurobiology at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden from 2011 and Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen (2007-2013). In 2009-2010, Tibor Harkany was team leader at the European Neuroscience Institute at Aberdeen University . Before that, the native Hungarian worked as a senior scientist and assistant professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. In 2002-2004 he completed a post-doc course at the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics of Karolinska Institutet. He completed his PhD in medicine at Semmelweis University in Budapest (HUN) in 1999.

Harkany has received numerous awards such as the Eric K. Fernström Prize for Young Scientists (2013), the IACM Award 2013 for Young Scientists and the Anders Jahre Prize for Young Scientists 2012, membership of the Academia Europaea (2016), and the 2018 Elsevier Distinguished Lecture Award, Developmental Neurotoxicology Society (US). In 2016 he was awarded an Advanced ERC Grant of €2.5 million for his research project entitled "Secret Cells".