Cori Bargmann is a pioneer in the study of olfactory perception and its influence on behavior and learning. Using the nematode C. elegans as a model, Dr. Bargmann began her investigation of olfaction by defining the neurons worms use to perceive specific attractive or repulsive odorants. Her lab was the first to identify worm odorant receptor genes and subsequently used these genes as tools to learn how odorants are perceived and distinguished. In one elegant study, Dr. Bargmann demonstrated that attraction to or repulsion from a specific odorant was a property of the olfactory neuron receiving the odorant rather than an intrinsic property of the odorant receptor itself. Through analysis of mutants, Dr. Bargmann has contributed to our understanding of how the complex organization and wiring of the nervous system is achieved, addressing such topics as how neuronal subtypes are specified, how axons find their targets, and how synapses are positioned. More recently, Dr. Bargmann has identified neural circuits required for several behaviors and has defined an olfactory circuit mediating learned avoidance of pathogenic bacteria. Dr. Bargmann is a Professor at Rockefeller University, an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and among other honors has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Gerald Fischbach
Gerald Fischbach has had a long-standing and outstanding career studying how neuromuscular synapses form and function. He was the first to establish a simple cell culture system for studying neuromuscular synapse formation, and he has used this system to study signaling pathways that regulate presynaptic and postsynaptic differentiation. In addition, his studies have provided important insight into the function of spinal cord circuits by showing how peptides and neurotransmitters released from sensory neurons regulate presynaptic release properties from spinal interneurons. He has served the Neuroscience community in multiple capacities, including as President of the Society for Neuroscience, Chairman of the Neurobiology Departments at Washington University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, Director of the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke at NIH and as Dean of Columbia Medical School.
2007 Symposium Topic: Neuromuscular junction, neuregulin and me
Dr. Rene Hen
René Hen has contributed greatly to our understanding of the role of serotonergic receptors in anxiety, depression and learning and memory. Growing evidence has implicated neurogenesis in the pathophysiology of depression. Adult neurogenesis occurs in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, the subventricular zone and the olfactory bulb. It has been estimated that over 3000 neurons are born every day in the central nervous system. Rene Hen has used mouse genetics and radiation methods to ablate adult progenitor cells and to disrupt hippocampal neurogenesis. His group has shown that X-irradiation of the hippocampal region or mouse genetic ablation strategies that block neurogenesis prevent the behavioral effects of different antidepressants. Therefore, the chronic effects of antidepressants may require hippocampal neurogenesis to produce new neurons that can facilitate synaptic plasticity.
2007 Symposium Topic: Neurogenesis and Depression
Steve McKnight has been a leader in the study of the nervous system with interests ranging from the molecular basis of circadian rhythms, to neurogenesis, to psychiatric disorders. His identification and analysis of the Neuronal Pas Domain proteins has provided a direct link between these two later topics. The NPAS genes have been found to be linked to schizophrenia and work from Dr. McKnight's laboratory has shown they result in abnormalities in hippocampal proliferation. Moreover, his work on NPAS1;NPAS3 compound null mutants have revealed that these animals have behavioral phenotypes, suggesting this may provide a model for both neurogenesis and brain dysfunction. Professor McKnight is currently a Professor and the Chairman of the department of Biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He has received many honors and recently was the recipient of an NIH Director's Pioneer Award.
Michael Meaney is a leading expert in studying how maternal care modifies an individual's brain development and the ability to deal with stress later in life. He was among the first to identify the importance of maternal care in modifying the expression of genes that regulate behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to stress. His work firmly demonstrates that an epigenomic state of stress-related genes is affected by early experience and that in spite of the inherent stability of this epigenomic mark, it is dynamic and potentially reversible in adulthood. His present interests are focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms by which maternal care alters the expression of genes, as well as the effects of environmental enrichment on synaptogenesis in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Dr. Meaney is currently James McGill professor of Medicine and full professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurosurgery. He is also the director of the Program for the Study of Behavior, Genes and the Environment at McGill University. In recognition of his contributions to stress research, he has received numerous awards, including a Senior Scientist Career Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award.
Dr. David Porteous
Davis Porteus is a leading expert in the application of knowledge emerging from the Human Genome Project to the identification of risk factors, disease processes and new treatments for common disorders in man. One major interest of his group aims to identify gene variants that increase susceptibility to schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder. The Porteus group has identified several genes of major importance in determining the risk of developing in these diseases. Of particular note is the identification of the DISC1 (Disrupted In Schizophrenia 1) gene as a risk factor in schizophrenia. DISC1 appears to have essential roles in the brain including the modulation of cytoskeletal function, synaptic transmission, and plasticity. In addition to these studies, his work on gene therapy for cystic fibrosis includes developing the first transgenic model of the disease to show a lung defect that parallels the human disease. Dr. Porteus is Chairman and a Professor of Human Molecular Genetics at the Center for Molecular Medicine in Edinburgh. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.
Nancy Kanwisher, who is a Professor at the McGovern Institute at M.I.T., studies how our brains perceive and process visual information, allowing us to identify objects in complex visual fields. These multi-disciplinary studies, using electrophysiological, anatomical and fMRI approaches, have identified distinct cortical areas that are responsible for face recognition, responding to other body parts and place recognition. Her current studies are directed at understanding how these cortical areas receive and process sensory information, how their responses change with experience, the extent to which these regions are anatomically and functionally distinct and how these areas arise during development. Among other honors, Dr. Kanwisher is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
2007 Symposium Topic: Functional specificity in the cortex: selectivity, experience & generality