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Paul Greengard : biography

December 11, 1925 -

Paul Greengard (born December 11, 1925) is an American neuroscientist best known for his work on the molecular and cellular function of neurons. In 2000, Greengard, Arvid Carlsson and Eric Kandel were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system. He is currently Vincent Astor Professor at Rockefeller University, and serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of Cure Alzheimer's Fund.


Paul Greengard has two sons from his first marriage, Claude and Leslie, and in 1985 he married internationally renowned sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard. Ursula is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including two awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, and three awards from the American section of the International Association of Art Critics. Ursula is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her artworks are among the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Walker Art Center. Claude holds a PhD in mathematics from UC Berkeley, and is a vice president at IBM. Leslie holds an MD from the Yale School of Medicine and a PhD in computer science from Yale University, and is a professor of mathematics and computer science at and director of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at NYU, a winner of the Steele Prize for a seminal contribution to research, a recipient of both a Packard Foundation Fellowship and an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, and a member of both the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His daughter, Ursula A. von Rydingsvard Greeve is the founder and COO of . YouHere productions was founded in 2007 and specializes in Web Video. YouHere is the recipient of multiple Telly Awards.


Greengard's research has focused on events inside the neuron caused by neurotransmitters. Specifically, Greengard and his fellow researchers studied the behavior of second messenger cascades that transform the docking of a neurotransmitter with a receptor into permanent changes in the neuron. In a series of experiments, Greengard and his colleagues showed that when dopamine interacts with a receptor on the cell membrane of a neuron, it causes an increase in cyclic AMP inside the cell. This increase of cyclic AMP, in turn activates a protein called protein kinase A, which turns the function other proteins on or off by adding phosphate groups in a reaction known as phosphorylation. The proteins activated by phosphorylation can then perform a number of changes in the cell: transcribing DNA to make new proteins, moving more receptors to the synapse (and thus increasing the neuron's sensitivity), or moving ion channels to the cell surface (and thus increasing the cell's excitability). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000 "for showing how neurotransmitters act on the cell and can activate a central molecule known as DARPP-32".


Greengard won first place in a potato-sack race at a Boy Scout Jamboree in New York."20 Things You Didn't Know About the Nobel Prizes", Discover, October 2006. He is currently married to artist Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Awards and honors

  • NAS Award in the Neurosciences from the National Academy of Sciences, (1991)
  • Nobel Prize (2000)
  • Member (elected) (2006), Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
  • Member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.


  • Les Prix Nobel. 2001. The Nobel Prizes 2000, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, Nobel Foundation: Stockholm.


Greengard was born in New York City, the son of Pearl (née Meister) and Benjamin Greengard, a vaudeville comedian. His mother died in childbirth. His father remarried when Greengard was thirteen months old. Greengard's parents were both Jewish, and his stepmother, who raised him, was Episcopalian; Greengard was thus "brought up in the Christian tradition". During World War II, he served in the United States Navy as an electronics technician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working on an early warning system against Japanese kamikaze planes. After the war, he attended Hamilton College where he graduated in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics. He decided against graduate school in physics because most post-war physics research was focusing on nuclear weapons, and instead became interested in biophysics. He began his graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University in the lab of Haldan Keffer Hartline. Inspired by a lecture by Alan Hodgkin, Greengard began work on the molecular and cellular function of neurons. In 1953, Greengard received his PhD and began postdoctoral work at the University of London, Cambridge University, and the University of Amsterdam. He then became director of the Department of Biochemistry at the Geigy Research Laboratories. After leaving Geigy in 1967 he worked briefly at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Vanderbilt University before taking a position as Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Yale University. In 1983 he joined the faculty of The Rockefeller University. Dr. Greengard is a member of the Board of Scientific Governors at The Scripps Research Institute. He is the acting chairman of the and serves on the board of the Michael Stern Parkinson's Research Foundation. Both internationally-renowned foundations support the research conducted in the Greengard Laboratory at The Rockefeller University.

Pearl Meister Greengard Prize

Greengard used his Nobel Prize honorarium to fund the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, an award for women scientists named after his mother and established in 2004. The award is to combat discrimination against women in science, since, as Greengard observed, "[women] are not yet receiving awards and honors at a level commensurate with their achievements." The $50,000 annual prize is awarded to an outstanding woman conducting biomedical research.

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