Neeraj Jain obtained his B.Sc. (Honours School) (1980) and M.Sc. (Honours School) (1982) from Punjab University, Chandigarh. He received his Ph.D. in 1986 from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. After working as Scientist at Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad for six years, he moved to Department of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA. There he worked with Prof Jon H Kaas initially as Research Associate and later as Research Assistant Professor studying organization and plasticity of the somatosensory, motor and visual systems of many mammalian species, including rodents and different monkey species. On return to India, he joined the newly established National Brain Research Centre in 2002. He was appointed Director-in-Charge of NBRC in 2017, and Director in 2018.
Academic and Research Achievements: Dr Neeraj Jain is among the world’s leading neuroscientists in the field of mammalian somatosensory and motor system, and brain plasticity. His major contribution is demonstrating that spinal cord injuries result in reorganization in multiple areas of the adult brain. Using macaque monkey as a model, he has established that the brain-wide plasticity is mediated by neuronal growth in the medullary nuclei, which are the early information-processing centres for tactile inputs. The changes in the medulla are reflected as plasticity of the upstream areas. In addition, Dr Jain described a novel area in the rat brain that is involved in both motor control and higher brain functions, which does not have any homologue in the primate brain. Dr Jain’s more recent studies show that evolution of the opposable thumb, which enables complex object manipulation and tool use, has led to modifications in the brain circuitry for more efficient information processing. The thumb inputs are processed in an independent module in the somatosensory cortex, whereas inputs from the fingers, which are often used together, are processed in a more integrative manner. Besides advancing understanding of sensorimotor information processing, his work has implications for improving recoveries from spinal cord injuries using therapeutic interventions.
Awards and Honors: Dr Jain received gold medal (1980) for securing first rank in Panjab University, Chandigarh in B.Sc. Microbiology; Young Scientist Award (1995) from John F. Kennedy Centre, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA; Fellow of the John F Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA (2001); International Senior Research Fellowship (2003-2008) from the Wellcome Trust, UK. He was Elected Member of Guha Research Conference (2016) and Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India (2016).