It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Kavli Symposium on the Prefrontal Cortex and Working Memory at Yale University in Memory of Patricia Shoer Goldman-Rakic.
In a few months, it will be 3 years that Pat was suddenly silenced in a tragic accident as she was reaching the peak of her career. Although time has passed, Pat's contributions to our understanding of the mysteries of the prefrontal cortex stand as a permanent tribute to her talent, creativity, and persistence in following a path that was thought for many years to be blocked by numerous immovable obstacles.
Were it not for a fatal accident, Pat would have been the host for this meeting taking place here at Yale today. Pat was committed to unraveling the secrets of the frontal lobes, and this is what this symposium is about. It was her conviction early on that to make progress in the treatment of mental illness we must first understand the normal function and biological causes of its disturbance. She believed that a full understanding of human behavior and mental capacity will only be gained when the organ which mediates that behavior is fully understood and that the prefrontal cortex, in primates, is fundamental to achieving this goal. She was also deeply committed to multidisciplinary research that embraced molecular biology, anatomy, and neurophysiology and most unique to Pat's work, the connection of all these disciplines to behavior.
Thus, it may not be a coincidence that participants in this symposium come from so many different scientific backgrounds and levels of analyses. However, although most people work on one or two of these levels, Pat worked and contributed to nearly all of these fields in a serious and compelling way.
Pat's interest in deciphering higher brain functions and the frontal lobes was inspired, in part, by the work of Nauta, Milner, Teuber, Konorski, etc. with whom she hobnobbed as a young, aspiring scientist in the 1970s (Fig. 1A). Initially, she was particularly interested in development and plasticity and early in her career established the Section on Developmental Neurobiology at the National Institute of Mental Health, members of which were photographed together in 1979 (Fig. 2A). Subsequently, she left the comfort and security of this position, supported by the intramural program, to join me and the newly founded Section of Neuroanatomy at Yale University Medical School. There, she wrote her first research grant application and was remarkably successful. Within a brief period after her arrival at Yale, she established an excellent and vigorous multidisciplinary team as seen in the photograph of her laboratory in the early 1980s (Fig. 2B). It is noteworthy that many of the scientists shown in the photograph went on to establish their own independent research careers inspired in great part by her mentorship.
When Pat and I attended the first meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 1970 (Fig. 1B), she never dreamed that 20 years later, she would be its President (Fig. 1C). She was very communicative and enjoyed discussing and debating a broad array of issues from the scientifically intriguing such as the function of the frontal lobes with the likes of Joaquin Fuster (Fig. 1D) and the localization of dopamine receptor subtypes in the prefrontal cortex with Paul Greengard (Fig. 1E) to more feminine topics such as the advisability of wearing pearls when giving invited lectures with Rita Levi-Montalcini (their decision was yes!, Fig. 1F). Pat never forgot a comment once made to her by Rita to the effect that had she known how difficult understanding the brain was, she would never have attempted it. Pat knew how difficult it was and still pursued the most complex question in the universe—the biological basis of thought. So, Pat was many things: she was brave, strong, and decisive and still remained unassuming, gentle, and feminine.
Over the years, Pat organized many meetings and symposia including the one on “Memory: Recording Experience in Cells and Circuits” at the National Academy of Sciences and the Dahlem Conference on the “Neurobiology of Neocortex” in Berlin (Fig. 1G). In addition, it was her idea to initiate a journal devoted to work focused on the Cerebral Cortex, which she and I founded in 1981. In the beginning, there were only a few hundred articles submitted; whereas today, the journal receives more than 1000 manuscripts a year to review. Pat would have been so proud to see the journal's growth in size and stature.
Pat left an indelible mark on the fields of Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, and Psychiatry. During the past 3 years, I have participated in numerous and remarkably diverse meetings related to higher brain functions, including the International Society for Schizophrenia Research, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the Scandinavian College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the Society of Biological Psychiatry, the Society for Neuroscience, and the World Congress of Genetic Psychiatry, to mention only a few. At each of these meetings, several individuals came up to me independently to say: “Pat's absence from this field is palpable”…as it is here at Yale.
Her paper on the prefrontal cortex and representational (working) memory (Goldman-Rakic 1987) is listed among the 100 most influential papers in Cognitive Neuroscience of all time. It stands in this selective list together with giants such as Sigmund Freud, Hughlings Jackson, Noam Chomsky, and one of our participants, Eric Kandel. It is remarkable that this article, published in the inaccessible, expensive, and now out of print Handbook of Physiology that is not even available on the Internet, has been cited more than 1,700 times. In this article, she formulated her concept of representational memory as a neurobiological substrate of abstract thinking that has made possible the advent of extraordinary human mental capacities. During the last few decades, she received numerous awards and forms of recognition including many prestigious prizes and honorary degrees, the last of which occurred just 2 weeks prior to her death when she received an Honorary Degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland (Fig. 1H). The National Academy's website, “Women's Adventures in Science,” included Pat's name in their list of “25 Amazing Women in Science,” in the company of such luminaries as Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, Mary Leakey, and Margaret Mead. It is really heartwarming to see her work and name used in an educational context to inspire young people, especially young women, and to support their interest in science.
Pat had numerous students and collaborated with many scientists. She was curious and full of novel ideas and she was generous and eager to share them. I do not know whether this is a record, but nearly 3 years after her death, her name appears as a coauthor on more than 20 papers. These are not small contributions; they are published in Science, Nature Neuroscience, The Journal of Neuroscience, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; and several additional papers are presently submitted for review.
Thus, despite her death, her ideas continue to live through her students and collaborators. Pat believed that we would not understand human nature and uniqueness without understanding the frontal lobes. I was present last week at a meeting in Barcelona celebrating the 100th year of the Nobel Prize awarded to Ramon y Cajal in 1906. One of the conclusions of the meeting was that the major unsolved problem and the main goal of modern neuroscience is understanding the uniqueness of the human brain, in particular, the prefrontal association cortex. It is my hope that this meeting will be a small step toward achieving this goal. We are all grateful to the Kavli Foundation represented here by David Auston and to Connie and Steve Lieber from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression and Essel Foundations for their generous support of this symposium. They all worked closely with Pat on developing this research program at Yale, and they remember her enthusiasm and unconditional support. I would also like to recognize the organizers: Xiao-Jing Wang, Helen Barbas, and Bob Knight, who have put together a remarkable symposium, which will enhance our understanding of the prefrontal association cortex.
Conflict of Interest: None declared.