Thomas Sudhof

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine


It’s the start of the day and you stretch, savour your first coffee of the morning, and begin making a to-do list in your head. As you do so, millions of neurons in your brain fire up and “talk” to one another. They release chemicals called neurotransmitters that travel across junctions between nerve cells, sending messages to coordinate every thought, action and behaviour. 
It’s estimated the human brain contains two quadrillion synapses, or junctions between nerve cells — 10,000 times the number of stars in the Milky Way. Each synapse is so complex it’s like a nanocomputer all by itself, says Professor Thomas Südhof, whose work since the 1990s has helped shed light on one of the most fundamental questions in neuroscience. To elucidate how nerve cells communicate with one another, Professor Südhof studied brain cells from mice. He identified the proteins that control how neurotransmitters are formed, and held in place on the membrane surface before being released at the right time. 

The insights gleamed from Professor Südhof’s research laid a molecular basis for neuroscience and brain chemistry, and has helped further the understanding of diseases such as schizophrenia and autism. For his work, Professor Südhof was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, a prize he shared with Professor James Rothman and fellow GYSS 2018 speaker, Professor Randy Schekman.

Professor Südhof was born in Germany to parents who were both physicians. He studied medicine at the University of Göttingen, and received his PhD from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in 1982. The following year, he moved to the University of Texas, Dallas where he remained for the next 25 years. In 1986, Professor Südhof became an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He moved to Stanford University as a professor in molecular and cellular physiology in 2008.

Professor Südhof’s accomplishments also earned him the 2010 Kavli Prize in neuroscience, and the 2013 Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.