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Cultivating the Future of Neuroscience

Yulia Zayats 
Department of Biology
Lake Forest College 
Lake Forest, IL 60045

On March 20th, the undergraduates of Lake Forest College set out on a journey that forever changed their outlook on the field of Neuro- science. This journey was to the annual Chicago Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience conference, which took place at Northwestern Memo- rial Hospital. The purpose of the conference was to advance the public’s understanding of the nervous system and to convey the recent neurosci- ence advancements made by scientists of the Chicago area, as well as the whole nation. I, along with my Lake Forest College peers, attended the conference to discover how our studies of neuroscience can be utilized to make significant contributions to the future of neuroscience.

The major theme of the conference was synaptic circuits, and the first three major symposia were led by Mriganka Sur, Richard Huganir and Mark Bear who discussed the significance of synaptic circuits and their relationship to brain dysfunction. Mriganka Sur started out with an introduc- tion of the neuron’s ability to make thousands of alterable connections in order to create specific pathways that give rise to cognition. Dr. Sur demon- strated the plasticity of synaptic circuits in his study, in which he used visual input to alter cortical connections in ferrets. Dr. Sur’s lab also demonstrated that synaptic circuits altered by genes can lead to a neurological disorder called Rett syndrome. Richard Huganir continued the symposium with an explanation of how glutamate receptors play a role in altering synapses through long-term depression and long-term potentiation, which are cru- cial for forming memories and learning. Dr. Huganir’s studies show that modification of receptors can improve learning, as well as inhibit it, causing brain disorders such as Autism and diseases such as Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. Mark Bear concluded the symposium with the discussion of the Fragile X syndrome and how the silencing of FMRP gene interferes with regulation of glutamate receptors, which are responsible for multiple neurological symptoms of the syndrome. At the end of the symposium, it was clear to see the importance of synaptic circuits in multiple human diseases. As individuals pursuing careers in science and medicine, Lake Forest College students saw that furthering their studies in neuroscience can potentially lead to discovering new targets or even cure neurological diseases that have been afflicting humanity for decades.

The keynote lecture was led by Joshua Sanes, from Harvard University. Dr. Sanes’ lecture conveyed perhaps the most important rev- elation of the event as it demonstrated how synapses form. His studies on the vertebrae retina successfully conveyed how important the wiring of synaptic circuits is to the proper function of vision and how improper wiring can be a base for brain diseases. When we see an image, the information is relayed from retinal photoreceptors to interneurons, which send the infor- mation to retinal ganglion cells. Retinal ganglion cells are known as feature detectors and compose over 20 parallel pathways that respond to various types of stimuli.

Dr. Sanes demonstrated this selective activation of retinal gan- glion cells through his study on the assembly of visual circuits in rodents. Through the use of hemophilic adhesion molecules, he was able to redirect axons and dendrites in rodent retinal circuits to make them respond to specific stimuli. For example, a particular retinal ganglion cell would only respond if the rodent saw grading over its entire visual field, as opposed to only a part of its visual field. In short, Dr. Sanes’ research demonstrated that certain molecules are able to bias the synapse formation and con- nectivity of the neuron, which lead to the change of the circuit’s function. Since rewiring neuron circuits through the use of molecules is proven to be possible through Dr. Sanes’ studies, it is possible to use this method in treating various brain disorders, which stem from improper wiring of synap- tic circuits. The keynote lecture demonstrated to undergraduates of Lake Forest College that neuroscience can be potentially directed to discovering different methods and agents that can alter and correct miswired synaptic circuits, and thus relieve the drastic effects of brain disorders.
The conference proceeded with a focus on the dedicated work of under- graduates, graduates, and postdoctoral scholars. The most diverse and in- vigorating portion of the symposium was the poster viewing session during which researchers from various institutions all over Illinois were given the chance to present their most recent neuroscience findings. A post-doctor-

Beyond the Classroom

al fellow from Northwestern University, Dan Xu, displayed his poster on the biodegradable nanoparticles that are able to treat epileptic seizures by inhibiting immune cells in the brain that are involved in inflammation. Because nanoparticles are able to decrease brain inflammation, Xu’s lab aims to establish this method as a viable treatment for epilepsy.

In addition to the contributions made by graduate students in the poster symposium, undergraduate research was also displayed. Marissa Elaine, from Illinois State University, researched the effect of dopamine on the stomatogastric ganglion. The results of Marissa’s studies showed that dopamine affects lateral gastric region of the ganglion differently than the dorsal region, signifying that dopamine effects depend on concentration as well as the motor patterns of stomatogastric ganglion regions.

When the poster viewing came to a conclusion, graduate stu- dents gave lectures on their research findings. A graduate student from Northwestern University, Dominic Frank, initiated the graduate symposium. Frank’s research targeted the sensory map of the Drosophila brain that corresponds to detecting hot and cold stimuli, and he discovered that slow adapting neurons respond well to simple temperature changes, while fast adapting neurons respond well to fast temperature changes. The function of these cells is fundamental to key temperature preference behavior and helps flies avoid danger. In essence, the poster viewing session, as well as the graduate symposium, reinforced the importance of synaptic circuits in the field of neuroscience.

The annual Chicago Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience conference concluded with recognitions of poster and presentation win- ners. Two Lake Forest College students Josephine Masandika and Alex- andra Roman were recognized for their exceptional posters with an Under- graduate Poster Competition Award. Roman acknowledged how diligently she worked on to achieve her award by stating, “I worked hard on my poster, making sure it was well-spoken and clear to all audiences.” Roman expressed that it’s particularly important for undergraduate neuroscience students to attend conferences and commented, “I’ve come every year and the conferences are a good way to gauge the knowledge you’ve gained over your four years in college.” According to BIOL 130 student, Pegah Nabili, “Not only do you get to see preliminary findings that may not be pub- lished in primary literature yet, but it also gives you the opportunity to talk to the researcher and learn more about their work, if you have the interest.” I would have to agree with both Roman and Nabili because the Chicago Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience conference has a tremendous impact on the scientific community, especially medicine.

To sum up, the theme of the conference was synaptic circuits and it proved to be a fundamental concept that addresses the issues we face today including brain diseases and disorders. It is important for un- dergraduate students to appreciate the importance of the theme and how it will affect the direction research will take in the future, for the neurosci- ence students today are the future of neuroscience research. The Chicago Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience conference encourages Lake For- est College undergraduates to integrate their academic knowledge as well as utilize it in the ever-growing field of research.

Mriganka Sur

Brain Wiring and Brian Disorders


Mark Bear

Developing Disease Modifying Therapies for Fragile X Syndrome and Autism


Joshua Sanes

Assembling Neural Circuits in the Retina

Graduate Student Symposium Competition Winners



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