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Do neural circuits share a common plasticity tool-kit?


Elisa Galliano and Sam Barnes

The brain is not hard-wired but instead can adapt to changes in sensory experience. The way in which it responds to changing sensory stimuli and the plasticity that modifies the brain to accommodate environmental influences, reveals processes that serve as the molecular basis of network development, learning, memory and sensory processing. Such modifications include well-studied changes of synaptic strength, modulations of intrinsic neuronal excitability, alteration of inhibitory systems and homeostatic modifications of cell structure and function. 

Observing these phenomena relatively early in sensory processing provides some important insights. Although these regions have traditionally been considered quite immutable in the adult animal, they exhibit a wide range of plasticity mechanisms that are shared with higher order brain regions. Early sensory processing systems have relatively well understood form and function, given the great amount of work that has focused on them historically, and tight experimental constraint can be applied to gain a deep understanding of how they are modified by experience, because observed events occur relatively proximal to sensation, where information remains unprocessed. 

This symposium aims to compare across different sensory modalities (i.e. vision, audition, olfaction) the ways in which neurons change in an experience-dependent manner under both normal and pathological circumstances. Using this approach, we aim to explore how such integrated cellular modifications impact network functioning and, ultimately, behaviour.

Thanks to the generous support of Scientifica, we will host a symposium at the BNA2019 Festival of Neuroscience (Dublin, 14th to 17th Apr 2019) entitled “Experience-dependent neuronal plasticity: An integrated view across different sensory modalities”. Our panel will look for common mechanisms across multiple sensory neural-circuits with techniques that investigate plasticity at a range of spatial scales from molecular to mesoscopic. Dr Martine Hamann (Leicester) will discuss experience-dependent plasticity in the auditory system and related pathologies. Dr Samuel Barnes (Imperial College London) will cover experience-dependent homeostatic plasticity in vivo using the adult visual cortex as a model system. Dr Sam Cooke (King’s College London) will talk about his work on learning and memory, in both health and disease, focusing on primary sensory cortical plasticity to gain insight into simple but poorly understood forms of memory that serve as an essential foundation for higher order cognition, notably including habituation. Dr Elisa Galliano (Cambridge) will share some data on how different cellular plastic mechanisms interact and influence network processing and behaviour in the olfactory system. 

To maximise the novelty and impact of this symposium, the panellists will discuss both published work and new findings. Moreover, they will stress that understanding how the brain accommodates changes in experience provides insight into the fundamental principles of neural-circuit function and may also yield insight into how those processes are dysfunctional in disease.

Find out more information and register here.

Come and join us in Dublin!

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