Synaptic Modification, Neuron Selectivity, and Nervous System Organization

Synaptic Modification, Neuron Selectivity, and Nervous System Organization

Synaptic Modification, Neuron Selectivity, and Nervous System Organization

Synaptic Modification, Neuron Selectivity, and Nervous System Organization

Excerpt

L. N. Cooper Center for Neurosciences and Physics Department

I want to welcome you to the last in our series of workshops under a Sloan Foundation grant to the Centers for Neural Science and Cognitive Science here at Brown. I'd like to greet everybody and thank you all for coming -- some of you from very far away -- to be with us in this workshop. I feel somewhat like the host in a Gothic novel who has invited a large number of guests for a weekend. None of the guests has a clear idea of why he was invited until the host begins to tell his stories and says, "One of you will die."

I trust nothing that drastic will happen, but I think it's interesting that the question arises. This is clearly not a workshop organized around a single technique or around a particular piece of anatomy. Rather, it is organized around an idea, or an attempted idea; this idea of course is how modification in single neurons, the behavior of single neurons, can be related to what is known experimentally and can eventually be used as the basis of higher nervous system organization.

To say that one is going to go from the molecular biology of a single synapse to cognitive behavior may seem premature or even absurd -- to quote Eric Kandel in an article he wrote some years ago concerning the single synapse and psychotherapy. Frankly, I don't think it's either premature or absurd. As you will see from the progression of the talks, the theme that we're trying to develop begins with the work of Kandel and Castellucci, which indicates that modification at single synaptic junctions in a very simple animal is related to certain behavioral changes. The work of Levy is another and somewhat newer approach that gives very interesting evidence of synaptic modification and is closely related to the work in visual cortex that we'll hear about this afternoon. Although there's not complete agreement among all experi-

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