nicholas gonatas

Dr. Nicholas K. Gonatas, professor of pathology & laboratory medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine and founder of the division of neuropathology at Penn, died on October 7 of pancreatic cancer; he was 84.

A luminary neuropathologist, Dr. Gonatas had been a faculty member at Penn for 50 years.

He was raised in Thessaloniki, capital of the province of Macedonia in mainland Greece. Dr. Gonatas survived the Nazi occupation, graduated from the Anatolia College in 1946 and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki School of Medicine in 1952. He came to the US in 1957 where he trained in neuropathology, experimental pathology and cell biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York by legendary physicians and scientists: Lucien Rubinstein, Harry Zimmerman, Bob Terry and Saul Korey. In 1964 Dr. Gonatas was recruited to Penn where he built one of the finest neuropathology divisions in the country.

During his 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, which resulted in a citation classic publication, was the first to describe in detail the ultrastructure of mitosis. His work on axonal transport, again another citation classic, 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 key underlying factor in the pathogenesis of many inherited neurological diseases, paving the way to better classification of these disorders (such as lysosomal or mitochondrial diseases) and to better understanding of their etiology and pathogenesis. In experimental neuropathology and following closely his work in cell biology, 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 Senator Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator awards, 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 was elected corresponding member of the Academy of Athens.

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 30 neuropathology fellows; many of them continue in his mold, as physician-scientists combining basic or translational science with clinical neuropathology.
Dr. Gonatas is survived by his wife, Jacqueline; sons, Dinos and Constantine; daughter, Marina; and three grandchildren.