In Memoriam: Anne Morel (1947-2016)

Anne Morel was a prominent neuroscientist who in her early career contributed greatly to our present understanding of the organization of the auditory, visual, and motor systems in cats and non-human primates. The majority of her later career was devoted to clinical research with the aim of improving therapeutic neurosurgical approaches to alleviating chronic human suffering due to disorders of brain functions like Parkinson's disease or neurogenic pain. She began as a neurophysiologist, but soon also became an expert neuroanatomist.

Her career began at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland with following periods at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, INSERM in Bron, France, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, University of Fribourg, Switzerland and University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland where she spent the majority of her career (1991-2013) as a neuroanatomist at the Neurosurgical Clinic of the Dept. of Functional Neurosurgery.

The Morel Atlas of the Human Thalamus

In research projects with Gabor Székely, Daniel Jeanmonod and other neurosurgeons, Anne Morel used her neuroanatomical expertise to develop a human neuroanatomical atlas of the thalamus and basal ganglia that guided neurosurgical treatments of chronic  therapy-resistant functional brain disorders. She applied different staining techniques thus allowing  cyto-architectonic determination of thalamic and pallidal subnuclei to analyze inter-individual variability based on a large number of human brain specimens.

The culmination of this work  was the publication of a book, "Stereotactic Atlas of the Human Thalamus and Basal Ganglia" in 2007. Besides the printed form of the atlas, she joined a team of ETH Zurich to create a 3-dimensional digital representation of the thalamic nuclei, also covering the inter-individual variability of the anatomy. The resulting digital atlas has become an indispensable tool both in neuroscience and in clinical care and has been licensed by more than 100 research centers all over the world in the meantime. This work was realized as part of the Neuroproject of the National Centre of Competence in Research NCCR Co-Me.

In addition, she applied the tract-tracing Nauta technique to the brain of a deceased patient who suffered form dystonia. This study allowed her to analyze in detail the presence of axonal projections from the external pallidum to the thalamic reticular and relay cells, a demonstration highly relevant in the pathophysiological mechanism of dystonia. Following that she published a study devoted to the human insula with Marc Gallay and other collaborators.

In 2000 Anne Morel reactivated a regular and intense scientific collaboration with Eric Rouiller, a fellow PhD student with her at the University of Lausanne, and colleagues at the University of Fribourg, to investigate in non-human primates the connections between the motor thalamus and motor cortex. Anne Morel was an expert in the delineation of the multiple nuclei comprised in the motor thalamus and she supervised with talent and great enthusiasm several Ph.D. students.

Late Years

Her colleagues, students, and friends remember Anne as an intelligent, dedicated, gregarious, generous, kind, respectful and helpful person fond of travel, her cat, and organizing social events often centered around interesting conversation, good food and fine wine. She was loved by all who knew her and will be fondly remembered.

2013 Anne Morel retired with plans for travel and enjoyment of her remaining years. Nevertheless, she also remained true to neuroscience research and participated in a new venture investigating the geometric relation of thalamic nuclei with thalamo-cortical connections as can be determined in vivo by MR diffusion tensor imaging. Just a few days before her death she was still very much looking forward to finish this work which was interrupted by her illness. Unfortunately all these great plans were prematurely terminated. On August 22, Anne Morel passed away at the age of 69.

Her research publications have been highly cited and have provided the foundation for important developments in basic and translational research as well as neurosurgical care. Her scientific legacy is assured.