Nicholas K. Gonatas, MD (1930-2014)
October 07, 2014
The Department mourns the death of Dr. Nicholas Gonatas, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, luminary neuropathologist, world-class researcher, founder of the Division of Neuropathology at Penn, and outstanding teacher and mentor to scores of pathology fellows, residents, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.
Dr. Gonatas had been a faculty member at Penn for 50 years and was a legend amongst Pathologists, Cell Biologists and Neuroscientists. Dr. Gonatas graduated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and came to the US to train in neuropathology, experimental pathology and cell biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. In 1964 Dr. Gonatas was recruited to Penn, where he built one of the finest neuropathology divisions in the country.
During his remarkable scientific and clinical career, Dr. Gonatas published more than 220 manuscripts, many of them in journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of Cell Biology, American Journal of Pathology, Journal of Neuroscience, and PNAS. In cell biology his work on mitosis was the first to describe in detail the ultrastructure of mitosis. His work on axonal transport was the first to describe retrograde axonal transport, receptor-mediated endocytosis and Golgi trafficking. In clinical neuropathology he described four myopathies: myotubular (centronuclear) myopathy, nemaline myopathy, mitochondrial myopathy and oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy. He introduced the concept of organelle pathology as a key underlying factor in the pathogenesis of many inherited neurological diseases, paving the way for a better classification of these disorders (such as lysosomal or mitochondrial diseases) and a better understanding of their etiology and pathogenesis. In experimental neuropathology, he discovered that disruption of the Golgi apparatus is an early and hallmark lesion of motor neuron degeneration. He also described synaptic alterations as an early manifestation of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's Disease. His NIH grant support, which included two NINDS Javits Awards (R37), had been one of the longest that any individual scientist had in the history of the NIH.
Dr. Gonatas received numerous fellowships and awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim and Josiah Macy Foundations, the Rous-Whipple award and the Gold Headed Cane award from the American Society for Investigative Pathology, the Meritorious Award for Contributions to Neuropathology from the American Association of Neuropathologists (AANP) and numerous teaching awards. He served as AANP president and in 1984 he was elected corresponding member of the Academy of Athens.
At Penn, Dr. Gonatas established a distinguished national and international neuropathology training program and built a Division populated by faculty with very strong experimental programs. He trained more than thirty Neuropathology Fellows; many of them continue in his mold, as physician-scientists combining basic or translational science with clinical neuropathology. A memorial by the Department is being planned.