Henry Markram began his research career in the 1980s at the University of Cape Town, working simultaneously in medicine and neuroscience with a strong orientation towards neurology and psychiatry. His early research focused on chemical modulation of the brain. He showed that acetylcholine switches the sensory maps of cells in the brain stem. He discovered that acetylcholine gates the glutamate receptor linked to learning and memory (NMDA). This work was the first to make the link between acetylycholine (critical for learning and memory) and NMDA (critical for synaptic plasticity). He also showed how the interaction between acetylcholine, serotonin, and noradrenaline impacts on the NMDA receptor and contributed to work showing that lithium treatment used in depression restores the cholinergic potentiation of NMDA receptors. He was the first researcher to record from and electrophysiologically characterize the cholinergic neurons, and produced one of the earliest reports demonstrating an association between aging and loss of nerve growth factor in cholinergic neurons.
At this early stage in Henry's career, the tools required for systematic study of neuromodulation were unavailable. He thus shifted focus to neural microcircuitry, applying a broad range of anatomical, physiological, biophysical and molecular techniques, and pioneering the multi-neuron patch-clamp approach. In this work, he produced numerous papers on the types of neurons, synapses and circuits present in the neocortex, the ion channel genes expressed in individual neurons, and the various synaptic pathways linking specific types of neocortical neuron. His best known discoveries in this phase of his work were of Spike Timing Dependent Plasticity (STDP), Redistribution of Synaptic Efficacy (RSE), and Long-Term Microcircuit Plasticity (LTMP). Other key achievements included the discovery of principles of Ca2+ influx into dendrites, the identification of novel excitatory and inhibitory synaptic pathways in neocortical microcircuity, the demonstration of differential synaptic transmission via the same axon, and that the structural microconnectome is a randomly connected tabula rasa.
In 2002 he founded the Brain Mind Institute at the EPFL, Switzerland and in 2005, he founded the Blue Brain Project (BBP). The BBP aims to build a supercomputing facility capable of building and simulating biologically accurate models of the brain from first principles. In 2008 the Blue Brain Facility reached the capability to build and simulate the neoccortical column for the first time with 10'000 neurons (over 200 types), 10 million synapses (6 types). The Blue Brain Facility is today (2011) capable of building and simulating a region of the neocortex (morphologically detailed, electrically accurate, synaptically precise) with up to 1.2 million neurons and over 1 billion synapses. The Blue Brain Project aims to systematically and exponentially increase the facilities capability to build and simulate the brain with ever greater biological accuracy and larger scale going across different species to reach a complete and accurate model of the Human brain.
In parallel with this work, Henry Markram has made important contributions on theoretical and clinical issues. In particular he has worked with theoreticians to develop the theory of "liquid computing", a novel solution for handling real time continuous input to the brain. He co-developed a highly used model of dynamic synaptic transmission (the Tsodyks-Markram model). In the field of autism research, he conducted experiments with a rodent model, showing an association between autistic behaviors and hyper-connectivity, hyper-reactivity and hyper-plasticity in the microcircuitry of the neocortex and the amygdala. He co-developed the "Intense World Theory of Autism” with Kamila Markram who discovered hyper-fear in the autistic animals and who was the first to propose that many symptoms of autism may be secondary to exaggerated fear memories and an overly intense world.
Henry Markram is a full professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland. He was born in the Kalahari desert in South Africa in 1962, finished school at Kearsney College (1980), studied medicine and neuroscience at Cape Town University (1988), obtained a PhD in neuroscience at the Weizmann Institute (1991), completed postdoctoral work as a Fullbright Scholar at the NIH (1992) and as a Minerva Fellow at the Max-Planck (1994). He started his lab at the Weizmann in 1995, spent a year sabbatical research at University of California San Fransisco (2000), moved to the EPFL to found and direct the Brain Mind Institute (2002) and founded and currently directs the Blue Brain Project (since 2005) at the EPFL He coordinates and co-directs the Human Brain Project (HBP), a €1billion euro project to systematically reconstruct and eventually simulate the human brain.
Henry Markram has published over 100 papers, received numerous distinctions, awards and prizes, has one of the highest cited original research papers in neuroscience (>2'000), and is one of the highest cited (>14'000) neuroscientist at his stage of career.
Henry Markram's favorite quote: "To ask whether it is possible to build and simulate the Human brain is irrelevant. What you should rather ask is what will it take to build and simulate the Human brain. Everything changes once you dare to seriously ask this question"