2017 Excellent Paper in Neuroscience Award goes to Dr. Cristina García Cáceres

A research team headed by Dr. Cristina García Cáceres, group leader at the Institute of Diabetes and Obesity at Helmholtz Zentrum München, has shown that astrocytes – previously considered to be merely ‘support cells’ – respond to insulin to regulate sugar transport into the brain. The paper, published in the journal ‘Cell’, has now won the Excellent Paper in Neuroscience Award.

Every year, ERA-NET Neuron bestows the Excellent Paper in Neuroscience Award (EPNA) to an outstanding scientific publication from its research field. The so-called European Research Area Networks (ERA-NETs) are European Union-funded transnational projects dedicated to specific research fields. ERA-NET Neuron is one such project, which focuses on essential processes in the brain.

This year's award has gone to a paper entitled “Astrocytic Insulin Signaling Couples Brain Glucose Uptake with Nutrient Availability”, published in the prestigious journal ‘Cell’. Headed by lead author Dr. Cristina García Cáceres and study leader Prof. Dr. Matthias H. Tschöp, the authors showed that insulin acts as whole-body sugar sensors in astrocytes controlling its accessibility from the blood into the brain. Therefore insulin signaling in astrocytes controls the hunger of the brain for sugar and thus the switch to stop eating. “Previously, it had been assumed that this was a purely passive process,” explains Tschöp. “Our work also showed that sugar transport into the brain is regulated by astrocytes and that these astrocytes are responsive to hormones such as insulin and leptin. Until now, it had been thought that only nerve cells were able to respond to these hormones – astrocytes were considered to be primarily support cells.”

These results represented a paradigm shift, which also convinced the EPNA jury which now has awarded the € 3,000 prize to lead author Cristina García Cáceres. The award also includes an invitation: In July this year, the winner will give the ‘ERA-NET NEURON Young Investigator Lecture’ and present her work at the Forum of Neuroscience in Berlin.


“This is a great distinction and a wonderful endorsement of our work,” says neurobiologist García-Cáceres. In the long term, she and her team would like to build on their findings to develop specific means for controlling metabolism. “I'm thinking in particular about development of strategies for the control of sugar access to the brain in metabolic diseases associated with elevated blood glucose levels such as obesity and type 2 diabetes – diseases that are spreading rapidly and pose a major challenge for society,” comments García-Cáceres, looking to the future.

Please find more information in the press release “Sugar addiction: Discovery of a brain sugar switch”.