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Vol. LXVI, No. 9
April 25, 2014
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Two-Day Porter Symposium Draws Experts

On the front page...

To celebrate the dedication of the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center, NIH recently held a 2-day scientific symposium highlighting research characteristic of the facility and showcasing some of the scientists who will be working in the PNRC.

Held Mar. 31-Apr. 1, the symposium brought together top neuroscience experts from across the U.S., leading NIH scientists and the two original visionaries for the building—Dr. Gerald Fischbach, NINDS director 1998-2001, and Dr. Steven Hyman, NIMH director 1996-2001. In fact, PNRC is considered their “brainchild.”

Continued...

A Vision Realized
Symposium presenter Dr. Kenton Swartz (l) of the NINDS molecular physiology and biophysics section greets alumni—former NINDS director Dr. Gerald Fischbach (c)and former institute executive officer Kevin Kirby.

Symposium presenter Dr. Kenton Swartz (l) of the NINDS molecular physiology and biophysics section greets alumni—former NINDS director Dr. Gerald Fischbach (c)and former institute executive officer Kevin Kirby.

“The vision that Gerry and Steve had was to bring together intramural neuroscientists from multiple institutes—who were working in 10 different buildings across the campus—into one building, and then to arrange them not by institute, but according to the questions that they were asking and the techniques and tools that they were using,” said NINDS director Dr. Story Landis, opening the meeting. “So the Porter building in effect put the brain back together.”

Landis invited both Hyman and Fischbach to the podium to give remarks. Hyman—who is currently director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and also Harvard University distinguished service professor of stem cell and regenerative biology—provided background on the vision for PNRC. Prior to 1999, he explained, NIH housed its neuroscientists according to institute, but he and Fischbach sought to change that with creation of PNRC.
Dr. Jeffrey Diamond of NINDS’s synaptic physiology section explains how specialized synapses compute visual information in the retina. Dr. Ellen Sidransky of NHGRI’s Medical Genetics Branch discusses Gaucher disease and Parkinsonism. Dr. Benjamin White of NIMH’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology talks about “Studying Decision Making on the Fly.” Dr. Dietmar Plenz, chief of NIMH’s section on critical brain dynamics, describes the cellular origin of neuronal avalanches.

Dr. Jeffrey Diamond of NINDS’s synaptic physiology section explains how specialized synapses compute visual information in the retina.

Dr. Ellen Sidransky of NHGRI’s Medical Genetics Branch discusses Gaucher disease and Parkinsonism. Dr. Benjamin White of NIMH’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology talks about “Studying Decision Making on the Fly.” Dr. Dietmar Plenz, chief of NIMH’s section on critical brain dynamics, describes the cellular origin of neuronal avalanches.

“It seemed that it would be a rather easy case to make that people should be clustered not by the institute that signs their paychecks,” said Hyman, “but rather by their intellectual interest, by forming a critical mass, or by the rather odd idea that maybe we could buy one shared something [piece of equipment] instead of eight or nine of them.”
Dr. Huda Zoghbi (l), professor of pediatrics, neurology, molecular & human genetics and neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, greets fellow presenter Dr. Maximilian Muenke of NHGRI’s Medical Genetics Branch.

Dr. Huda Zoghbi (l), professor of pediatrics, neurology, molecular & human genetics and neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, greets fellow presenter Dr. Maximilian Muenke of NHGRI’s Medical Genetics Branch.

Photos: Bill Branson

According to Fischbach—currently chief scientist and fellow of the Simons Foundation in New York—completion of PNRC is a dream come true.

“It was a dream then and everyone here worked very hard to make this dream come true,” he said. “The dream was that neuroscience is one discipline and that people from different institutes and different walks of life would come together in one open, interactive space.”

Trailblazing Research Presented

True to their original idea of how research will flow openly and collaboratively at PNRC, the symposium covered a broad range of neuroscience that—like the building—was organized by larger, cutting-edge scientific themes. It featured five sessions with presentations on trailblazing research on everything from genetics to behavior.

Dr. Matthew Kelley of the NIDCD Laboratory of Cochlear Development speaks on wiring the brain’s microscope Dr. Mark Stopfer of NICHD’s Laboratory of Sensory Coding and Neural Ensembles speaks on neural codes for odors.
Among presenters were two scientists who work in the newly dedicated Porter Neuroscience Research Center: Dr. Matthew Kelley (l) of the NIDCD Laboratory of Cochlear Development speaks on wiring the brain’s microscope. At right, Dr. Mark Stopfer of NICHD’s Laboratory of Sensory Coding and Neural Ensembles speaks on neural codes for odors.
Dr. Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute and Doris and Don Berkey professor in MIT’s department of brain and cognitive sciences, gives a presentation on visual processing.
Dr. Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute and Doris and Don Berkey professor in MIT’s department of brain and cognitive sciences, gives a presentation on visual processing.

The sessions—constructing neuronal circuits, cell biology of neurons, genetics of brain disease, dissecting neuronal circuits and how synapses shape circuit function—included such topics as selective synapse formation in the retina, traffic signs on the cellular microtubule highway, venom toxins and molecular mechanism of the nerve impulse, neurogenetics, neural codes for odors, expanding social network of ionotropic glutamate receptors and neurotransmitter vesicle fusion.

The talks covered a variety of scientific questions on smell, taste, hearing, behavior and attention and provided an opportunity to learn about innovative techniques such as live imaging of zebrafish behavior, thermogenetics, multielectrode array recording of primate behavior and MEG (magnetoencephalography) recordings in humans.

Attendees heard from more than a dozen NIH basic scientists and physician scientists, as well as extramural neuroscience leaders: Dr. Joshua Sanes of Harvard University, Dr. Lily Jan of the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Huda Zoghbi of Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Robert Desimone of MIT and Dr. Roger Nicoll of UCSF.

The symposium also offered many a first look at the newly completed state-of-the-art building that was designed to encourage collaboration and interaction among intramural scientists.

“I’ve always felt that as the NIH goes, so goes the rest of the world and I believe this building is the epitome of that idea,” said Fischbach. “It’s a wonderful place to be and work and I think that the beauty of it will influence the science for a long, long time to come.”

(Andrey Kuzmichev contributed to this article.)


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