Brain and neuronal plasticity are featured topics at neuroscience symposium

May 07, 2002

It was once thought that we are born "wired" for life, meaning that the number of neurons in the brain and the enormousy complex pattern of neuronal connections are established at birth and cannot be reset. But over the last decade this paradigm has been overturned as neuroscientists have discovered that the neuron isn't hard wired and can grow new connections in response to such experiences as learning a new language.

On May 10 an international symposium hosted by NYU School of Medicine's Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine will bring together leading scientists in the extraordinary field of synaptic plasticity. They will discuss how experience shapes neuronal connections in the brain; the genes involved in the development of the synapse; how genes contribute to specific behaviors; and the molecular biology of memory storage, among other topics.

The symposium will feature Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel of Columbia University; neurobiologist Carla Shatz, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School; molecular biologist Richard W. Tsien of Stanford University School of Medicine; physiologists Michael Merzenich and Allison Doupe and biochemist Cornelia Bargmann of the Unviersity of California at San Francisco; and molecular biologist Shigetada Nakanishi of Kyoto University.

You can obtain information about the program at The program begins at 10 a.m. Reporters who wish to attend should call Pam McDonnell at (212) 404-3555. Biographies of the speakers follow.

Richard W. Tsien, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine Dr. Tsien studies the signaling mechanisms that link electrical activity to cytoplasmic events and to intracellular and intercellular communication. His laboratory has pioneered studies designed to reveal how calcium channels work and how calcium regulates transmitter release and gene expression.

Michael Merzenich, Ph.D. Professor, Physiology Department, University of California at San Francisco Medical School Dr. Merzenich studies how the functional organization of the somatosensory, auditory, and motor cortex is remodeled following behavorial experiences or training. His electrophysiological and imaging studies in rodents and primates serve as a basis for defining mechanisms underlying brain illnesses and disabilities and for developing training strategies for remediating learning-disabled and movement-disabled adults and children.

Carla Shatz, Ph.D. Professor, Neurobiology Department, Harvard Medical School Dr. Shatz studies how the adult pattern of precise and orderly connections in the central nervous system is established during development. Her laboratory has focused on the cellular and molecular interactions responsible for the emergence of connections in the mammalian visual system, and she has pioneered studies designed to reveal how neural activity alters gene expression and the strength of synaptic connections.

Allison Doupe, M.D., Ph.D Associate Professor, Psychiatry & Physiology Departments, University of California at San Francisco Medical School Dr. Doupe studies how the nervous system mediates behavior. Her research has focussed on birdsong, a complex behavior, regulated by sex steroids, that requires song learning and production. Her studies have shed light on the neural basis of learning and on factors which control and limit learning.

Cornelia Bargmann, Ph.D. Professor, Anatomy and Biochemistry Departments, University of California at San Francisco Medical School; Investigator, HHMI Dr. Bargmann studies how the genetics and development of the nervous system contribute to specific behaviors. Her studies of olfaction in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans have led to a molecular understanding of signal transduction in the olfactory system, identification of genes that regulate axon outgrowth, pathfinding and synapse formation, and insights into genes that regulate social behavior.

Shigetada Nakanishi, M.D., Ph.D. Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Kyoto University Faculty of Medicine Dr. Nakanishi studies the large family of glutamate receptors in the central nervous system, which his laboratory discovered. He studies how excitatory glutamate-synaptic transmission regulates sensory processing in the visual and olfactory systems, synaptic plasticity in the olfactory cortex and hippocampus, and motor coordination mediated by the cerebellum. In addition, his laboratory uses mouse molecular genetics to identify and study the neurons that contribute to circuits in the retina, cerebellum and basal ganglia.

Eric Kandel, M.D.. Professor, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; Investigator, HHMI Dr. Kandel studies the molecular mechanisms that allow neurons to store, consolidate and retrieve information. His pioneering studies in the snail Aplysia revealed the biochemical and electrophysiological changes that occur at synapses following sensitization and habituation, and these discoveries have provided a foundation for current studies of learning and memory in rodents and primates.

NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

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