illustration Sophie Layé, masterminds
© INRAE C. Maïtre

Food, Global Health 6 min

Sophie Layé, masterminds

Sophie Layé directs the NutriNeuro unit with a strong will and boundless energy. The laboratory, which she created in 2011, has proven that an appropriate diet from a young age protects neurons and allows the brain to age gracefully.

Published on 08 December 2015

“Welcome to the chateau”! Everyone knows her by the sound of her step, as her heels click the grey-blue linoleum floors of the long hallways of the University of Bordeaux. From floor to floor, wherever there is an open door, there is Sophie Layé, arriving in a whirlwind of words and gestures. She’ll only stay a few minutes, to discuss something on the fly or ask a question before leaving in a friendly flurry. “She’s a super dynamic leader with everything it takes to run this lab”, says Lucile Capuron, her colleague of ten years who co-directs the Psychoneuroimmunology and Nutrition team. “I love working with her”.

Protecting neurons

The thirty-something students at the lab, whom Sophie says are her masterminds, feel the same way. Following her lead, they are laying the foundations of a new and innovative discipline at the crossroads between nutrition and neuroscience. “Through research, we are trying to bring objective data to the table on the impact of nutrition, and particularly of certain micronutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, on the brain and on an individual’s well-being”. 

Diverse skill sets, social issues… INRA said, you’re on!

The pace has slowed down a bit, the action is more posed and purposeful. Words are weighed, very carefully weighed. After a career as lecturer in neuro-endocrinology, Sophie came on board at INRA as a researcher in 2003. Today, she is pursuing translational research on humans and animals: “We created the international summer school to teach students and professionals about health in different metabolic states such as obesity, and how certain components of food and diet affect stress, memory and depression”.

Autonomy is paramount

When Sophie speaks about her work, the personal development and autonomy of her colleagues is foremost in her mind. When it comes to Robert Dantzer, her thesis advisor and expert in human emotions and the relationship between stress and disease, she is overcome by a mixture of mischief and tenderness. “Robert is a very discreet man, just the opposite of me… But he was always ready and willing to help us reach our common goal”. Sophie requires that her team publish on a regular basis, but above all defends the pleasure principle as the ultimate driving force of all achievement. Everyone knows where to reach Sophie at all times. Even when she is half way around the world forging international partnerships for the International Associated Laboratory (LIA) Optinutribrain, which she created in 2014. “Now all of that must thrive!” she says with a sense of urgency.

Helping the brain grow old gracefully

Often on the go, always on the move: that’s Sophie. Even late at night, on her bicycle, on her way to her piloxing class to cleanse herself of the day’s tobacco intake. After an 18-year break, cigarettes have once again become her anti-stress, at the same time she took over the direction of the unit. Everyone around here knows that tall friendly Sophie works hard to foster and promote her lab’s research on a constant basis, to justify the confidence placed in her and means invested. “There are thousands of questions yet to be answered about the nutritional lives of people. During the developmental stages, and particularly pre-natal nutrition”. Sophie speaks of the future of her research with relish and indulgence: explore new avenues, predict future challenges in nutrition and help the brain grow old more gracefully… so that memories linger longer.

Sophie Layé, recipient of the 2015 Scientific Breakthrough Award, with her team at the NutriNeuro unit, INRA Bordeaux-Aquitaine


Eric Connehayetranslated by Inge Laino

Sophie LayéJoint Research Unit for Nutrition and Integrative Neurobiology - NutriNeuro (INRAE, Université Bordeaux, Institut Polytechnique de Bordeaux)