UTSA Neurosciences Institute

One UTSA Circle San Antonio TX 78249

In Memoriam

Brian Derrick PhD 1959-2018

The UTSA neuroscience community mourns the loss of an irreplaceable scholar, colleague and mentor, Professor Brian Derrick.  He was both a pioneering researcher and an inspiring mentor and friend to students, postdocs, and fellow faculty throughout his 23 years at UTSA.

Brian loved sports cars and Joni Mitchell.  He was a courageous champion for social justice and adored his beloved cats.  To us, first and foremost, he was generous colleague who had a lucid and creative voice in integrative neuroscience. 

A native Californian, Brian earned degrees in psychobiology from UCLA (BS) and then Berkeley (PhD), where he also completed his postdoctoral training.  He joined the faculty of UTSA in 1996 to build a research program centered on cellular plasticity mechanisms in hippocampal learning.  

Brian made many lasting contributions to neuroscience over the course of his career, but the most significant of these solved a puzzle central to understanding how the hippocampus serves memory formation.  Until that point, general models for hippocampal learning were thought to rely on cellular plasticity mechanisms that were understood solely through activation of the NMDA receptor.  This receptor was absent in a key region of the hippocampal circuit, which made it unclear how the plasticity required for memory formation was generated.  In a series of groundbreaking papers, Brian demonstrated that a new form of µ-opioid receptor-dependent plasticity can generate canonical forms of plasticity (long-term potentiation and depression) that display the principles of cooperativity and associativity required for memory formation. His discovery had a broader impact by underscoring that despite receptor diversity across brain regions, the principles that govern synaptic plasticity in the nervous system are general. 

This key discovery was followed by other contributions to the field of plasticity in learning and memory. His laboratory characterized different forms of plasticity in various hippocampal synapses, studied the factors that contribute to the decay of memory, described further the role of opioids in memory, and assessed which patterns of activity are optimal for distinct forms of plasticity. His research was published in the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, including Nature, Nature Neuroscience, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and The Journal of Neuroscience, and was collectively cited over 1500 times.

Brian’s scientific contributions were paralleled by a deep commitment to mentorship.  He was a beloved teacher whose neuropharmacology course was the gateway for many students into scientific careers.  He will be remembered as a generous and passionate educator who favored memorable quips and storytelling to deliver intellectually rigorous content with depth, humor and relatable ease. He had a special commitment to undergraduate mentorship, and was the perennial team coach and one-man spirit squad for the South Texas Brain-Bowl – a longstanding Texas intercollegiate neuroscience competition.

Brian mentored numerous masters and undergraduate students in his lab.  He graduated four doctoral students, the last of whom, Jossina Gonzalez, continued to work with him until his death.  He garnered the respect and admiration of colleagues and staff in the Neuroscience Institute and Biology Department, and will be remembered with fondness for his assiduous service, infectious grin and easy-flowing wit.  Brian's absence will be felt far and wide by our students, faculty and throughout the institution. 

He will be deeply missed.  

Brian in his newly established lab at UTSA, 1996.