Mona Castel


Prof. Mona Castel / 1931-2015

In Memoriam

An appreciation by John Morris, Oxford University Medical School.


Searching the databases for Mona’s publications from way before I got to know her personally, it is obvious that her scientific interest was focussed on neuroendocrinology from the start. Her early studies with Mordechai Abraham on vasopressin took advantage of two xeric species found in Israel. So despite being more than two thousand miles apart, this scientific interest was an immediate bond between us; the second being the use of ultrastructural analysis as an investigative tool.

Distance apart was, thankfully, no bar to communication because Mona was both an avid traveller and communicator. It was not surprising, therefore, that we first met when Mona was visiting the lab of Julia Polak at the Hammersmith in London, working with Susan Van Noorden and Ian Varndell. Mona loved coming to the UK and was a frequent visitor to my lab in Oxford. Mona also loved collaborating; in the early 1980s she published a series of studies with Dieter Dellmann, and also got to know Hal Gainer, and together in 1984 they published a major review of neurosecretory systems. Her links with Hal Gainer remained for the rest of her life and I know that Hal often visited her in Jerusalem.

Mona spent a sabbatical year in Oxford with me during which we systematically catalogued all the neurophysin-containing cells and processes in the mouse brain. Mona was a great one for refining techniques by careful experiment, and I still treasure her final working recipe sheet for light microscopic peroxidase immunocytochemistry entitled “The Ultimate” in her own immediately recognisable hand.

From the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei, Mona’s interest in vasopressin led her both to the study of oxytocin transgenic mice with Gainer and to the suprachiasmatic nucleus and the organotypic cultures developed by Susan Wray. Following on from our own demonstration of exocytosis of peptides from both the dendrites and cell bodies of magnocellular neurons we were able to show similar release of peptides in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Mona’s interest in the suprachiasmatic and the role of GABA in diurnal rhythmicity continued to the end of her research life.

The word “Artist” in the title of this piece is there for two reasons: first and foremost because almost every preparation Mona made and every image she produced was done with exquisite care and great artistry. If you want to see how best to present morphology in a paper you only have to look at Mona’s publications. But behind this, and pervading all her life was a deep love of art, in particular relatively modern art, and this was also something we shared passionately – in particular the work of Modigliani. I shall never forget, when I visited her in Israel after seeing a large Modigliani exhibition in London, the delighted way in which she pored in detail over almost every page of the exhibition catalogue that I had brought for her.

I’m sure that many others share with me a whole host of very happy memories of Mona and of collaborative ventures in neuroendocrinology and in art. She enriched our scientific and cultural lives and was a very special and unforgettable friend.

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