Themed “The Making and Breaking of the Mind”, Friday the 20th of March marked the 27th of the long-standing Cambridge Neuroscience Seminars, showcasing the diversity and calibre of neuroscience research conducted at the University of Cambridge. The programme committee comprising the Cambridge Neuroscience Coordinator Dr. Dervila Glynn, and Drs Michel Goedert, Michael Hastings, Marco Tripodiand Adam Tozer from the host institution, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB), prepared an outstanding line-up of distinguished speakers organised around three sessions, two plenary lectures given by Nobel laureates, and a public lecture, showcasing the latest research in neuroscience to over 325 delegates.
Following Dr. Marco Tripodi’s warm introduction to the seminar, the first session on “Development”, chaired by Professor Christine Holt, began with Dr. William Schafer’s talk from the host institution, whose interests lie on investigating the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind behaviour. Using state-of-the-art in vivo optical neuroimaging techniques on the nematode C. elegans, Dr. Schafer explained the importance of understanding the effect of behavioural states on the plasticity of neuronal circuitry. His inspiring talk was succeeded by Professor Andrea Brand from the Gurdon Institute of Cancer and Developmental Biology, who enlightened the audience about her seminal work on the nutritional control of neural stem cells that have the capacity to be differentiated into neuronal subtypes for a potential therapeutic use in the future. This exciting morning session was closed by Dr. Gregory Jefferis from MRC LMB. His talk focused on the sex circuits and brain maps, specifically discussing how odour information is translated in to behavioural responses in the fruit fly brain.
The conversations during the coffee-break evidenced the success of this first session and the excitement over the remaining talks. One PhD student from the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, Ms. Laurél Morris said: “The conference allowed me to gain insight into the myriad of exciting questions being asked by Cambridge neuroscientists. Excellent presentations were given by a range of people from established principle investigators to graduate and undergraduate students. Interacting with peers and researchers in this rich and dynamic environment was truly stimulating”.
Chaired by Professor Angela Roberts, the second session on “Perception and Cognition” kicked-off with two speakers from PDN. First, Dr. Hannah Clarke asked the audience whether “the glass [is] half empty or half full?” and explained how the serotonin mediated medial prefrontal and hippocampal circuitry play a role in negative emotions, and are implicated in a variety of psychiatric disorders. On a similar line of major neurotransmitter pathways, Professor Wolfram Schultz, focused on the dopamine neurons and potential economic models that might account for the brain’s processing of utility in decision-making. Last but not least, Professor Daniel Wolpert from the Department of Engineering highlighted how we make and second-guess our sensorimotor decisions in his engaging presentation.
The success of the Cambridge Neuroscience Seminars lies in its ability to foster communication and collaboration amongst neuroscientists from a variety of backgrounds and different levels of their academic careers. Specifically, the poster session that was held during lunch time in the main foyer of the MRC LMB building, provided the delegates with a unique opportunity to present and discuss their research, in addition to receiving invaluable feedback from fellow investigators. During this session, a group of judges from Cambridge Neuroscience agreed on two outstanding posters from postgraduate and post-doctoral presenters who later received their cash prize sponsored by Cambridge Neuroscience and an annual subscription to Science sponspored by AAAS Science. We would like to congratulate the PhD student, Mr. Manuel Schröter, who won the postgraduate award for his work on the rich-club organisation of in vitro hippocampal functional connections, and Dr. Mikail Rubinov who won the post-doc award for his analysis of the wiring-cost in the mouse brain connectome.
The final session on “Dysregulation and pathology”, chaired by Professor Giovanni Mallucci, started with Professor Karalyn Patterson’s talk on the representation of knowledge in the human brain and the ways in which factual memories break down in semantic dementia. The second talk, given by Professor David Menon from the Division of Anaesthesia, described his work on the neuroimaging of pathophysiology and potential outcomes in patients with traumatic brain injury. His research not only aims to understand the underlying mechanisms following acute brain injury such as car accidents, but also therapeutic avenues for achieving positive behavioural outcomes. The last talk in this session was given by Professor John O’Brien from the Department of Psychiatry, who investigates potential biomarkers, especially based on neuroimaging, in the early diagnosis of dementia.
Subsequent to the three outstanding sessions covering major neuroscience disciplines, the first plenary lecture was given by Professor John O’Keefe, Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits & Behaviour and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, Division of Biosciences at UCL, who has recently been awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his joint discovery of the place cells, together with Professors May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Held in association with MedImmune and introduced by Michel Goedert, throughout his talk, Professor O’Keefe entertained the audience with his anectodal descriptions of the historical timeline following the initial discovery of this “inner GPS” system. The second plenary lecture was given by the Nobel laureate Professor Edvard Moser, who discussed the grid cells and how they are affected by the geometry of the environment. These two distinguished speakers marked the end of the seminar at MRC LMB, and all delegates moved to the William Harvey lecture theatre at the Clinical School for the public lecture given traditionally in association with the Cambridge Science Festival and the Medical Research Council.
This year, Professor Barry Everitt’s public lecture was introduced by Professor Trevor Robbins, the winner of the 2014 Brain Prize. Focusing on the brain mechanisms of drug addiction and the re-evaluation of treatment goals, Professor Everitt, provided a memorable talk in an accessible way that completed the 27th Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar, before the drinks reception and conference dinner at Trinity College. The Public lecture was held in association with the Cambridge Science Festival.
Cambridge Neuroscience would like to thank all its very generous sponsors for making this event possible. Specifically, we extend our thanks to MedImmune & AstraZeneca, ActualAnalytics, The Company of Biologists and the Medical Research Council. Other sponsors were Scientifica, Cambridge Cognition, Micro Control Instruments, Proteintech, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Newmarketscientific, Stratech, Cambridge Electronic Design Limited, Lafayette-Campden Neuroscience, WPI and Science AAS. Last but not least, Cambridge Neurosciencewould like to extend special thanks to Ms Fiona Birnie for her assistance in organising this event and other assistant staff at the LMB.
The next Cambridge Neuroscience event, its Fifth Biennial symposium on “Imaging the nervous system” will be in September (9th-10th). Registration is open now.
Adapted from Cambridge Neuroscience News: Meeting report by Mr. Deniz Vatansever (Division of Anaesthesia, Department of Clinical Neurosciences).