Brazil, 2011: Guido Kroemer

Guido Kroemer first attracted the attention of at least the North American scientific community when, at the Banbury Conference on Apoptosis in 1990, he appeared as a very articulate (in five languages) young man he announced, to some surprise, that mitochondria depolarized and became leaky shortly before apoptosis could be recognized. Xiaodong Wang and Donald Newmeyer had reported that cytochrome c could activate caspase 3, but Guido was saying something larger—that the permeability of mitochondria to ions and to relatively small molecules could be the point at which the decision of a cell to undergo apoptosis was made, and that the mitochondria could be a therapeutic target.


From that point the Kroemer laboratories have generated an astonishing stream (over 600) of outstanding papers, using numerous unusual compounds and imaginative techniques to isolate and identify the specifics of the control of mitochondrial permeability. As this story began to solidify into an accepted part of the canon of cell death, Guido’s thoughts moved to other questions, for instance what happens to cells that do not die by apoptosis, and why some cells are more resistant to apoptosis than others. These questions led him to examine the relationship between apoptosis and autophagy, and to emphasize the importance of crosstalk between the two. In research and theoretical papers, the Kroemer group has explored how autophagy can protect a cell and how it can sometimes trigger apoptosis—in all cases provoking others with challenging questions as to how and in what circumstances it all fits together. Along the way, he has challenged others with probing questions about the evolutionary origin of apoptosis and its role in homeostasis. Today, in collaboration with his wife Laurence Zitvogel, he returns to his first interest, the role of apoptosis in the immune system, as always provoking others with challenging and deep questions.

He has been justly recognized with many awards, including the prestigious Descartes Prize of the EuropeanUnion, the Carus Medal of the German Academy of Sciences, the Grand Prix Mergier-Bourdeix of the FrenchAcademy of Sciences, the Lucien Dautrebande Prize of the Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine, the Gallet & Breton Prize of the French Academy of Medicine, the Duquesne Prize of the French National League against Cancer and the “Coup d’Elan” Prize of the Fondation Bettencourt-Schueller, among others. He is currently themost cited scientist worldwide in the field of cell death as well as in the area of mitochondrial research. TheInternational Cell Death Society belated honors one of its prolific and provocative leaders.