Dr. Krešimir (Kris) Krnjevic, one of the world’s leading authorities on brain cell communication, died peacefully on April 16, 2021, aged 93, in Montreal.

He was widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of neurotransmission, whose discoveries of the nature of chemical neurotransmitters clarified the role of chemical control processes in the brain.

Dr. Kresimir Krnjevic

KRNJEVIC, Dr. Kresimir O.C., B.Sc., Ph.D., M.B., Ch.B. (Edin.), F.R.S.C.

Born in Zagreb in 1927, Krnjevic’s early years were significantly influenced by the political situation in Yugoslavia. He had a peripatetic schooling in Geneva, Zagreb and Capetown before arriving in wartime London to join his father, who was then a member of the Yugoslav government-in-exile.

Krnjevic enrolled in medical school in Edinburgh in 1944. Graduating in 1949, he received a PhD in Physiology in 1953. Krnjevic spent two years (1956-1958) conducting post-doctoral research with Sir John Eccles (Nobel Prize 1963) and others at the Australian National University, Canberra. He returned to England as Senior Principal Scientist Research Officer at Babraham Institute, Cambridge (1959-1963), then led by Sir John Gaddum.

In 1964, Krnjevic was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Physiology at McGill University in Montreal. Fluent in both French and English, Krnjevic found Montreal to be a particularly attractive cultural and linguistic environment. In 1965 he accepted a position as Director of the Anesthesia Research Department at McGill, which he held until 1999. Krnjevic served as Chair of the Department of Physiology at McGill (1978-1987), and was appointed Joseph Morley Drake Professor of Physiology (1978-2001). Krnjevic formally retired in 1999 but remained active over the next 15 years as Emeritus Professor of Physiology.

The original findings revealed in studies by Krnjevic and his colleagues are too numerous to describe. He is perhaps most widely recognized for his contribution to the identification of the transmitter functions of certain amino acids – especially glutamate and GABA – which play more important roles in determining how information travels through the brain than had been previously suspected. Krnjevic also contributed to the understanding of the role played by acetylcholine, as a modulator of neurotransmissions.

Taken together, these, and other findings, have had a profound influence on our understanding of the chemistry of the brain, and on what we know about memory and learning at the cellular level. They have also contributed to scientists’ understanding of medical conditions such as strokes, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.

Krnjevic published over 250 scientific articles, 100 book chapters, and co-edited four books. He was also chief editor of the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (1972-1978). In 1981, the publication Current Contents called Krnjevic one of the 1,000 most cited contemporary scientists and named three of his papers “citation classics.”

Krnjevic’s achievements were marked by numerous awards and acknowledgements, the most significant being his appointment as Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1975), President of the Canadian Physiological Society (1979), Council Member, International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS) (1983-1993), Gairdner International Award (1984), Officer of the Order of Canada (1987), and the Wilder Penfield Prize (1997).

Krnjevic was a strong advocate of the importance of government support for scientific research. The acceptance speech he delivered at the Prix du Quebec (1997) presentation ceremony took the Quebec government to task for cutting back its funding of the province’s universities.

Krnjevic retained a strong attachment to his Croatian roots, and was a participant in Croatian neuroscience as lecturer and member of societies: Honorary Member of the Croatian Pharmacological Association (1983), Honorary President and Member of the Advisory Board of the Croatian Institute of Brain Research (1991), Corresponding Member of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences (1992), Spiridon Brusina Prize: the Croatian Natural Science Association (2001). Krnjevic was appointed Honorary President of Almae Matris Croaticae Alumni, Quebec (1990). He was also president of the International Croatian Initiative (1992-1998).

A true polymath, Krnjevic had a formidable array of interests and knowledge. Given his unsettled early years, Krnjevic also had a particular compassion for refugees, and spearheaded the Departmental sponsorship of a Vietnamese ‘boat people’ family of six. He described this multi-year commitment – which required much trouble and effort in finding adequate clothing, housing and employment for two adults and four young children – as perhaps the Department’s most gratifying joint endeavor of the 1980’s.

Krnjevic was a keen skier and hiker, who enjoyed countless weekends tramping in the woods at Mont St. Hilaire with friends and family. Famously young at heart, he delighted in the company of his many grandchildren.

Krnjevic is survived by Jeanne (nee Bowyer), his wife of 67 years, sons Peter (Lynn Allan) and Nick (Claire Fripp), grandchildren Elizabeth, Sarah, Diana, Robert, Jennifer, Rebecca, Carolina and Rory, and great-grandchildren Noah, Emma and Hannah: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/en-ca/obituaries/montreal-qc/kresimir-krnjevic-10157909/add-memory

A memorial service will be live streamed from the Church of Saint Nicholas Tavelic, on Saturday, May 8, beginning at 11 a.m.: https://www.facebook.com/Sv-Nikola-Taveli%C4%87-Montreal-173380719771717

Due to COVID restrictions, onsite attendance at the service is by invitation.

In lieu of flowers, the family invites you to consider donating to McGill University’s Department of Physiology’s “Dr. Kris Krnjevic Fund” to support students pursuing research in neuroscience: https://www.alumni.mcgill.ca/give/index.php?new=1&allocations=08335

From Montreal Gazette