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Shigeki Watanabe, PhD

Assistant Professor,Department of Cell Biology

Research overview

The goal of our research is to reveal how membrane and proteins are organized at neuronal synapses, how they change during the activity to process or store information, and how pathophysiological conditions affect membrane and protein trafficking at synapses. We have pioneered several techniques in electron microscopy that allow us to track membrane and protein movements at synapses with a millisecond temporal resolution. In combination with genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and advanced imaging techniques, we aim to dissect out the molecular mechanisms underling synaptic transmission and plasticity.

Professional biography

Shigeki Watanabe received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in 2004. Under the direction of Erik Jorgensen, he studied three aspects of neurotransmission: ultrastructural localization of synaptic proteins, morphological analysis of stimulated neurons, and connectomes. He established the method, called ‘flash-and-freeze’, that allows visualization of membrane trafficking events in electron micrographs at a millisecond temporal resolution. He received his PhD from the University of Utah in 2013. For his postdoctoral training, he worked with Erik Jorgensen (Utah) and Christian Rosenmund (Berlin, Germany), and studied synaptic transmission and plasticity in mammalian central synapses. In 2016, Watanabe established his own laboratory in the Department of Cell Biology at the Johns Hopkins University. The Watanabe laboratory studies the cellular and molecular basis of synaptic transmission and plasticity, focusing on the glutamate receptor trafficking. He is the recipient of 2013 Nemko Prize from the Society for Neuroscience, 2015 Eppendorf and Science Prize, Emil du Bois-Reymond Prize from the German Physiological Society, and Merton Bernfiled Award from the American Society for Cell Biology.


  •      Kazato Prize, Kazato Foundation, Japan, 2016·       Merton Bernfield Award, the American Society for Cell Biology, 2015
    ·       Eppendorf and Science prize for Neurobiology, 2015
    ·       Emil du Bois-Reymond prize, the German Physiological Society, 2015
    ·       Nemko Prize in Cellular or Molecular Neuroscience, the Society for Neuroscience, 2013
    ·       Riser award for outstanding research, University of Utah, 2013

Shigeki Watanabe is a cell biologist and neuroscientist who studies rapid membrane trafficking at synapses that mediate information processing and storage using cutting-edge electron microscopy techniques.