In Memoriam: Gian Carlo Panzica (1949-2022)
July 25, 2022

As some of you may have already heard, my friend and colleague Gian Carlo Panzica passed away on Thursday July 21 after a long battle against cancer. His death is a great loss for our scientific community and more personally I am losing a good friend and collaborator. I first met Gian Carlo in 1982 and for the past 40 years we worked in collaboration on studies of the quail hypothalamus. Our initial work identified the sexually differentiated medial preopic nucleus of the quail hypothalamus, which led to a whole line of research in itself. Our collaboration resulted in 32 joint publications but this is only a small part of the huge scientific production of Gian Carlo and his team. Gian Carlo is indeed well known for his extensive work on the anatomy and peptidergic innervation of the hypothalamus, in particular in birds. He is the author of over 180 papers on these topics listed in Pubmed in addition to multiple reviews on this and related subjects.

Gian Carlo was born in Milano in 1949 but spent all his academic career at the University of Torino. He was initially trained in botany but very quickly became interested in birds and their brain. Most of his scientific activity was therefore dedicated to birds even if, largely for pragmatic reasons, he started studying mice during the last decade: funding avian research had become difficult if not impossible in Italy and his local Animal care Committee never approved the quail housing he had established and modified at their request on multiple occasions!

The scientific interests of Gian Carlo were centered on the regulation by steroids of the central nervous system. His main topics of research were: the effects of gonadal hormones on the expression of neuropeptides and receptors, the influence of gonadal hormones on the development of hypothalamic and limbic circuits, and the effects of endocrine disruptors on neural circuits and behavior. He was particularly interested by vasotocin, the avian homologue of the mammalian vasopressin, and he devoted a lot of his research to this neuropeptide.

He collaborated with multiple researchers outside Italy, including Roland Grossmann (Mariensee, Germany), Antonio Guillamon and Paloma Collado (Madrid, Spain), Horst-W. Korf (Frankfurt, Germany), Mary Ann Ottinger (College Park, MD, USA), Fernando Sanchez (Salamanca, Spain), Krister Halldin (Stockholm, Sweden), Pierre Deviche (Phoenix, AZ, USA) and Julie Bakker and myself (Liege, Belgium). He was member of several editorial boards and scientific societies.

But above all, Gian Carlo is known, I believe, for having initiated and repeatedly organized with Roberto Melcangi (Milano) a series of conferences on ”Steroids in the Nervous System” that met every two years in Torino from 2001 to 2021 (held virtually in 2022 due to the Covid pandemics), in some years in the historic but painfully uncomfortable auditorium of the anatomy institute. He brought to Torino hundreds of scientists from all around the world to discuss and present their most recent data on his favorite topics and these meetings are unanimously remembered as being scientifically rewarding and at the same time socially very enjoyable. Together with Roberto, they had a unique skill in locating the new emerging stories and incorporating their presentation in the next meeting.

Gian Carlo was incredibly dedicated to science and worked very long hours in his lab and at home. Even if he often worked in conditions that were suboptimal, and would be considered by many as impossible due to funding limitations and administrative burden, he managed to produce an amazing scientific output. Irrespective of logistic difficulties encountered he never abandoned a project and always brought it to completion.

Every time I met Gian Carlo, he had many things to complain about (and he had reasons to do so….) but I never saw him discouraged and he always kept a great sense of humor. Gian Carlo also enjoyed life very much, I believe. He loved travel, music, science fiction novels and movies and above all great food. This was obvious to everyone who attended one of the Torino conferences that were always ending by a conference dinner that really deserved the qualification of banquet. These were 5 or 6 course meals (sometimes more) served with the same number of wines that he had carefully selected and truly appreciated. But… this was often too much for many of the guests!

The organization of these conferences was for him and Roberto a pleasure but also generated a lot of worries and problems to be solved so at the end they left him exhausted! But he did not mind and was already talking of the next meeting when the current one was not yet over.

Thank you Giancarlo for being such a great inspiring scientist and a nice person, …and for giving us so much fun.

You will be sorely missed.

Jacques Balthazart
University of Liege