Jan 8th

Agur, Ricardo Miledi

The great mexican neuroscientist (aged 90) died on December 18th in Irvine (California)

The Neuroscience community is much saddened to hear of the death of Ricardo Miledi at the age of 90. A medical doctor by training at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), Ricardo went on to become a skilled electrophysiologist and had an illustrious career of over 50 plus years. He and Bernard Katz uncovered while in University College London (UCL) the role of calcium in synaptic neurotransmitter release.  As well as making many basic discoveries on the acetylcholine receptor channel, he developed the use of Xenopus oocytes to express exogenous channels and receptors, which then led to the functional cloning of a large number of major neurotransmitter receptors and allowed detailed structure-function studies. His work has influenced the fundamentals of channel physiology and function to the more complex synaptic physiology.

Succeeding Katz as head of the Department of Biophysics at UCL, he moved to the University of California Irvine (UCI) in 1986 where he was Distinguished Professor.  Amongst other awards, Ricardo Miledi held the Royal Society's Fullerton Chair whilst at UCL and received the Royal Medal. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society (London), a member of the US National Academy of Science, and received the King Faisal International Prize for Science,the Prince of Asturias Prize for Scientific Research – Spain's highest honor for science, and the Ralph W. Gerard Prize of the Society of Neuroscience.

Summer 1988 at University of California, Irvine; from left to right Gabor Tigyi, Pat Deegan, Ricardo Miledi and Carlos Matute  

Ricardo had strong links to the Neuroscience Community in the Basque Country and the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). Some of us were postdocs or visiting at his laboratory in UCI, or at the Institute of Neurobiology (Queretaro, México), and kept over the years a close and productive collaboration exploiting the use of oocytes to investigate the expression of neurotransmitter receptors in glial cells in experimental animals as well as in human brain autopsies and tumor biopsies. As a result of those seminal studies it became clear that oligodendrocytes are endowed with a large repertoire of neurotransmitter receptors whose biological significance is still currently under scrutiny. These investigations and others laid the foundations of a strong local glia research community which would crystalize later on in the settling of the Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience.

Ricardo Miledi in his laboratory, in 2012
In his laboratory in 2012

Ricardo was indeed a true member of our academic community as he was Doctor Honoris Causa by the UPV/EHU, and showed keen interest in the neuroscientific developings here during his numerous visits to the Basque Country.  His extraordinary commitment to work and honesty, his infectious enthusiasm and dedication to the bench even into his eighties was exemplar to his peers, and imprinted the minds of those fortunate to be acquainted with him.

(*) "Agur" is a salutation in the Basque language (euskara), usually meaning "good bye", but also "Hello". This piece strives to have this double meaning, honoring the immortality of Ricardo Miledi.

Carlos Matute and Mitradas M. Panicker