Casagrande honored in special issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology

imageThis Special Issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology is dedicated to the memory of Vivien Casagrande, who died at home on January 21, 2017, after over a year fighting cancer. She loved her work, and struggled to continue until the end, coming to department meetings to advise and discuss, even when it was obviously difficult to do this. Vivien’s primary appointment at Vanderbilt was in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, but she had equal rights and laboratory space in the Department of Psychology. Her research focused on comparative studies of the visual system and visual system development. Her PhD was with Irving Diamond at Duke, and her postdoctoral training was with Ray Guillery at the University of Wisconsin. She came to Vanderbilt as an assistant professor in 1973.

Vivien did not originally plan to be a scientist, but she attended the University of Colorado where she majored in psychology and became a good skier. Her father was a prominent member of the faculty at MIT and then Harvard, and perhaps she felt that this life was not for her. After returning to Boston, she applied for a technician’s job with Nobel Laureate, Torston Wiesel at Harvard, and he convinced her that she should go to graduate school instead. To prepare, Vivien took a course with the world famous neuroanatomist, Walle Nauta, and he recommended her as a graduate student to Irving Diamond at Duke University. Vivien was Diamond’s first female graduate student, and she soon demonstrated that she was one of the best of all his students. Her first research paper as a graduate student was published in Science. Her PhD thesis was on the role of the superior colliculus in vision. Vivien’s postdoctoral research with Guillery was on the abnormal visual systems of Siamese cats. At Vanderbilt, Vivien was joined by undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows to produce a range of studies on the visual systems of monkeys, tree shrews, galagos, ferrets, and bats. Vivien also started long‐term collaborations with Murray Sherman and Tom Norton on classes of neurons in the lateral geniculate nucleus of tree shrews and prosimian galagos, and later became well‐known for her studies of the koniocellular geniculate‐to‐cortex pathway in primates. She also collaborated with A. B. Bonds at Vanderbilt using multielectrode arrays to study neuron response properties in visual cortex, and she published papers on experimentally induced myopia with her husband, Jim (Mac) McKanna. Vivien initiated optical imaging studies of visually evoked activity in visual cortex of primates at Vanderbilt. Her most recent research focused on the functional roles of nuclei of the pulvinar complex in modulating neural activity in visual cortex.

Vivien was recognized for her accomplishments with the Charles Judson Herrick Award from the American Association of Anatomists, the Charles R. Park Award for Basic Research, and at Vanderbilt, the Chancellor’s Award for research. She also received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award (2016). She has long been active in the Cajal Club, and was President in 1998. In 2018, she was recognized posthumously by the Society for Neuroscience with the Patricia Goldman‐Rakic Hall of Honor Award. Her favorite journal was the Journal of Comparative Neurology, where she published 25 papers.

Vivien befriended many, and she provided support and advice as needed. Most of all, she found tremendous joy in her research, and as a wife and mother. Vivien will be remembered for many reasons, and by a lecture series and a scholarship in neuroscience that Vivien and Mac endowed.

This Special Issue is composed of research papers and reviews on especially the early stages of processing in the visual system, the retina, lateral geniculate nucleus, superior colliculus, pulvinar complex, and visual areas V1 and V2, as these were targets for Vivien’s research. As Vivien’s first paper was on vision in tree shrews, as was much of her subsequent research, this Special Issue includes an extensive review of vision research on tree shrews.



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