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Review of 25th Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar by Kate McAllister

The 25th Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar was held on 26th March with a broad programme ensuring that the talks were of interest to members from across the neuroscience disciplines. The one day symposium, with the theme ’From Sensation to Action’, was hosted by the Department of Zoology. The organising teams from Zoology and Cambridge Neuroscience, including Dr Dervila Glynn, Professor Simon Laughlin, Dr Berthold Hedwig, Dr Matthias Landgraf and Dr Brian McCabe provided a dynamic day of talks finishing with a celebratory dinner for all attendees at Downing College.

The first plenary lecture of the day was delivered by Professor Johan Bolhuis (pictured right) of Utriecht University, in association with the British Neuroscience Association. This lecture was dedicated to the memory of Professor Sir Gabriel Horn, in recognition of the late Cambridge zoologist’s vast contribution to neuroscience. The lecture was attended by Lady Horn and his daughter and was a particularly apt start to proceedings as Gabriel was a founding member of the Cambridge Neuroscience network, which now has over 730 members. Professor Bolhuis’ lecture began with a touching dedication to his friend and former colleague, and described the influence that Gabriel had on his research, which focuses on birdsong and song learning. The audience were intrigued to hear that in terms of vocal learning, humans are actually more consistent with bird learning than with fellow primates.

The mid morning session focused on sensory systems and was sponsored by Neusentis, a Pfizer research unit. These four talks covered a wide range of topics, touching on almost all the themes of neuroscience. Dr Bob Carlyon from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit kicked off the session with an amazing demonstration of the problems with currently available cochlear implants, showing through a snippet of Ella Fitzgerald, the lack of pitch that people using these implants experience, followed by a discussion of his lab’s attempts to alleviate these issues. Professor Lorraine K Tyler, head of the Cambridge Centre for Aging and Neuroscience, then discussed the appropriateness of the classic models in explaining language functioning, after which Dr Berthold Hedwig (Zoology) moved to slightly smaller organisms, presenting findings on auditory systems in insects. Dr Mario De Bono (MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology) closed this session, describing behaviour in worm colonies. The audience were intrigued to see videos of worms interacting and the effect of oxygen levels on socialising. After watching worms socialising, delegates attended lunch and a poster viewing session.

Professor Silvia Arber of the University of Basel and Friedrich Miescher Institute, started off the afternoon with a talk about the organisation and function of motor systems. Professor Arber’s talk discussed the importance of motor behaviour to the function of the nervous system, and recent progress in understanding the neural circuits that underpin motor behaviour, including the role of the spinal cord. This plenary lecture was then followed by two very different but vibrant talks from Cambridge Neuroscience young investigators. Zoologist Dr Jimena Berni continued the focus on motor systems with a tour of exploratory behaviour in drosophila larvae. This was followed by Dr Victoria Leong from the Centre for Neuroscience and Education who presented her research on children’s reading, and the role of rhythm in learning to read.

The final session was focused on development and regeneration in motor systems and included really interesting work from Dr Steve Edgley from the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience and Professor Roger Barker from the John Van Geest Centre for Brain Repair. Dr Edgley presented the neural basis of controlling hand movements, the role of plasticity in these pathways, and the strategies to restore hand function after damage. Professor Barker presented findings from long term large scale studies of patients with Parkinson’s disease, describing the development of the condition, and crucially, the heterogeneity betweens patients. Presenting data from community based cohorts, Professor Barker hypothesised that there are two paths of PD progression and that stratifying patients in this way is important to assessing the outcomes of therapeutic trials including gene therapy and cell transplant. The Cambridge Neuroscience Public Lecture in association with the Cambridge Science Festival and the Medical Research Council was given by Professor José del R Millán who told the audience of the his work at the Centre for Neuroprosthetics at the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne. Professor Millian’s engaging talk focused on efficient brain-machine interaction and the implications for humanity of brain-controlled robotics. This memorable talk provided a great and accessible way of closing the focus on motor systems at the conference.

An aspect, which remains important to the core of the Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar, is to foster excellent neuroscientific research here in Cambridge. To this end, 70 scientific posters were on display and although the standard of research was high, a team of judges (recruited from the Cambridge Neuroscience) agreed on three outstanding group winners. Each winner received a £100 prize from Cambridge Neuroscience and an annual subscription to Science (sponsored by AAAS Science), which was presented by Science editor, Dr Peter Stern. Cambridge student, Miss Julia Heckenast won the undergraduate poster prize. Julia is a Part II student at St. Catharine's College studying Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. Her poster presented results from her research project, supervised by Dr Steve Edgley and Dr Sue Jones, where she is investigating the synaptic inputs to cerebellar-projecting neurons in the lateral reticular nucleus, which may be involved in encoding the passage of time, hence suggesting an important role in motor coordination. Miss Mari-Carmen Marx (Department of Pharmacology) won the PhD poster prize. Supervised by Dr Brian Billups, Carmen’s research focuses on processes that modulate synaptic transmission. Using direct electrophysiological recordings from pre- and postsynaptic neurons as well as glial cells in brain slices combined with fluorescent ion imaging, she investigates the release and recycling of neurotransmitters. Dr Louise Couton (Department of Zoology) won the Post Doctoral poster prize. Part of the Neural Network Development group, Louise’s research focuses on the building of neuronal networks. In her poster, she followed the development of connectivity between pairs of identified neurons that belong to the locomotor network in Drosophila larvae.

Cambridge Neuroscience would like to thank all its very generous sponsors for making this event possible.

The next Cambridge Neuroscience event, its Fourth Biennial symposium will be in September (16th-17th), with a two day a symposium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Prize award to Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley.

Meeting report by Miss Kate McAllister (pictured right, Department of Psychiatry).

Posted on 19/04/2013

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