Pietro De Camilli Joins the Board of Scientific Advisors

September 15, 2013

Joining the BSA this year is Pietro De Camilli, HHMI Investigator and Eugene Higgins Professor of Cell Biology and Neurobiology at the Yale School of Medicine.

“I feel honored to be part of this Board whose history is so interconnected with Yale, my own Institution,” says De Camilli. “Being on this Board gives me the opportunity to be exposed to the science and scientific vision of some of the most promising young investigators in this country, a real privilege.”

De Camilli has had a chance to work with one such investigator in his own lab, JCC Fellow Jeremy Baskin. “Jeremy joined my group with the goal of complementing his training in chemistry from his undergraduate and graduate studies at MIT and Berkeley, with a complementary training in cell biology,” he says. “He has been very successful in bridging the two fields with his project on signaling by phosphoinositides, a class of membrane phospholipids.”

When De Camilli himself was an aspiring scientist in the late 1960s in Milan, Italy, PhD programs didn’t exist. Instead, he studied medicine and became interested in vesicle movement, secretion, and intracellular membrane dynamics. He later came to the U.S. for a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale, where he discovered that the nerve cell protein synapsin was a major component on the surface of synaptic vesicles.

Over the next 30 years, De Camilli studied the secretion and endocytosis of synaptic vesicles, and made major contributions to the field when he characterized key molecules involved in the processes and showed how the processes are regulated.

Today, De Camilli still focuses on mechanisms in membrane traffic, with emphasis on the membrane traffic reactions underlying the development and function of neuronal synapses.

“We are particularly interested in mechanisms through which metabolic changes of membrane lipids impact membrane dynamics and, vice versa, in how membrane interactions affect their lipid composition. Disruptions of these mechanisms are responsible for many human diseases, including neurodegenerative disease,” he says. Looking forward, he adds, “We are very excited about a new methodology that we are spearheading in our lab for the acute manipulation of phospholipid metabolism using beams of light.”

De Camilli is also the Founding Director of the Yale Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration, and Repair. His honors and awards include membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.