Pasko Rakic was born in Yugoslavia and studied medicine at the University of Belgrade before beginning a career as a neurosurgeon. His research career started with a fellowship at Harvard University in 1962. One of his first experiments involved injecting rhesus monkey fetuses with radioactive thymidine at a particular stage of development. By looking at which cells were replicating, Rakic was able to trace the lineage of brain cells as they were created.
His team sliced the brains of each monkey into 7,000 sections to allow future researchers to study them without having to repeat the experiment. This and other work on mice allowed Rakic to work out the fundamental processes of mammalian neural development. He established, for example, that the neurons of the cerebral cortex originate in the subventricular zone, which he discovered and named, rather than being generated in the cortex.
In 2002, he received the 15th Bristol-Meyers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience. The prize committee noted his radial unit hypothesis, which stated that in the developing cerebral cortex the cells are created at the base of each column, each new cell migrates past its predecessors, and the related “protomap” hypothesis on external signals determining cell function as it grows and forms complex connections.
Rakic often collaborated with his wife and fellow distinguished neuroscientist Patricia Goldman-Rakic until she was tragically killed in a traffic accident in 2003. He has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Life story Pasko Rakic
Read the life story of Kavli Prize Laureate Pasko Rakic:
A Universe of Unbelievable Complexity and Beauty