A Capitol affair

Society for Neuroscience stays in its own backyard for this year’s annual meeting, looking to host more than 30,000 attendees

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Seeking, as always, to be the premier event in its field, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will hold its 44th Annual Meeting in the society’s headquarters city of Washington, D.C., at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center from Saturday, Nov. 15 through Wednesday, Nov. 19. More than 30,000 scientists from 80 countries are expected to attend to foster scientific discoveries and form new collaborations, doing so amid more than 15,000 scientific presentations, nearly 600 exhibiting companies, dozens of career development opportunities and an array of neuroscience-related social activities.
To help attendees negotiate the broad range of optional activities, DDNews asked SfN President Carol Mason for her guidance.
Navigating the show
“Each year at its annual meeting, the Society for Neuroscience attempts to capture trends in basic and translational approaches to understand the function and behavior of brain circuits by featuring scientific presentations, lectures and workshops that showcase the latest discoveries and hot topics related to the study of the brain,” Mason points out. “For example, this year’s meeting includes presentations on new techniques that enable us to see cells and circuits in action, stem cells and brain repair, nerve regeneration, the senses and how they interact, the science behind addiction and neurodegenerative disorders and targets for treatments.”
One of the great things about SfN’s annual meeting, Mason notes, is the amazingly broad range of science being presented. With thousands of scientific presentations and hundreds of exhibitors, plus more than 50 symposia and minisymposia and numerous workshops and networking opportunities, she believes there is something for everyone.
“Those with a focus on drug discovery and development may find the Empirical Approaches to Neuroscience and Society Symposium particularly interesting,” she posits. “Trevor Robbins of the University of Cambridge will discuss improving animal models for neuropsychiatric disorders in order to boost the development of new drugs for these diseases,” she notes. The symposium will provide an industry perspective and will also suggest ways to enhance the collaboration and development of this field to achieve more effective translation from the bench to the clinic.
Other symposia will present new findings on molecular aspects of neural regeneration, human cortical development, gut microbes, brain inflammation, epilepsy and lipid mediators of pain.
In the popular “Meet-the-Expert” series, established neuroscientists will share their experiences and personal paths to their line of research and engage in informal discussion. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at factors influencing these neuroscientists’ groundbreaking research and can ask questions about their work. Two topics of special interest are the brain-computer interface and special photoreceptive neurons in the eye that project to the brain.
But these days, as seems to be increasingly the case, science and money are tightly intertwined. In addition to research progress, funding concerns remain a top issue for the field, Mason observes.
“Although the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the world have identified neuroscience as a priority, in many places, science budgets remain flat or are falling. The Public Advocacy Forum at Neuroscience 2014 will focus on the implications for science funding in an era of global brain initiatives, including how these large-scale projects may impact funding practices and the field as a whole,” she concludes.
Daily highlights
Although our DDNews coverage cannot encompass the whole of the event, we do want to offer some day-by-day programmatic highlights gracing the middle three days of the event.
That begins with Sunday, Nov. 16, at 10 a.m. with “Advancing Brain Science Through Innovative Technologies and Methods,” which looks at how major research projects around the globe, such as the BRAIN Initiative, seek to improve understanding of the brain through the development of new technologies. Researchers demonstrate how implementing new methods and tools—such as improved techniques for imaging the connections between and communication among brain cells as well as nanoparticle therapies—can advance the field and lead to novel discoveries.
At 12:45 p.m. that same day is “From One Sense to Another: Crossing Sensory Modalities.” As the SfN program notes, our senses form our perception of the world around us, but new research may change our understanding of how the brain interprets those sensory signals. Recent findings demonstrate how our senses of touch, vision and hearing may intersect and how they may be involved in communicating emotional information.
“Legal Drugs of Abuse: The Science Behind Addiction” kicks off at 3:30 p.m., discussing how some of the most commonly abused drugs are the legal ones: alcohol, nicotine and, in some places, marijuana. Understanding the neurobiological components involved in addiction to these drugs can help pave the way for new treatments. New studies suggest that scent conditioning during sleep may help reduce smoking and that stimulating a certain part of the brain may inhibit alcohol seeking.
Monday offers “Detecting, Understanding and Preventing Neuroinflammation” at 10 a.m. That presentation focuses on the notion that inflammation in the central nervous system occurs when our brains are exposed to injury, disease, poor diet and infection. Examining neuroinflammation may help explain why some people are predisposed to psychiatric diseases, obesity and chronic fatigue, and highlight ways to monitor treatment and progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
At 11:30 a.m. comes “Potential Treatments for Spinal Cord Injuries,” of which SfN notes: Spinal cord damage often results in severe, life-altering limitations on an individual’s movement abilities. However, new potential treatments—from stem cells to brain-machine interface—aim to help recover normal breathing patterns and regain mobility through a wirelessly navigated wheelchair or robotic exoskeleton.
“Exploring Toxic Tau’s Role in Neurodegeneration” is on tap at 2 p.m., looking at how tau, a common brain protein, has long been associated with the progression of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. With the help of new findings, the presenters will explore how the toxic form of tau spreads in the brain and how reversing the changes induced by toxic tau may improve cognition.
At 3:30 p.m. is “The Developing Brain” which asks, among other things: How big a role do experiences during youth play in brain health? Do your mother’s experiences while pregnant affect your brain? Researchers show that factors such as stress on expectant mothers, trauma during childhood and the bonds between children and their caregivers may have lasting effects on a person’s mental health.
One of the earliest highlights of Tuesday, Nov. 18, is “Advances Through Stem Cell Research,” which inquires: How do we limit the devastating effects of the more than 1,000 neurological and neurodegenerative diseases that affect billions of people worldwide? As SfN notes, though, advances in stem cell research are bringing us closer to understanding, finding treatments for and stopping the progression of debilitating degenerative conditions including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Machado-Joseph and Huntington’s diseases.
At 12:30 p.m. is “Unhealthy Diet, Unhealthy Mind,” which explores the extent to which an unhealthy diet might lead to an unhealthy mind. Research sheds new light on how your sweet tooth may be blamed on your mother’s diet and how your diet may affect your ability to respond to stress. Scientists also explore how obesity may place people at an increased risk for developing memory problems and how a calorie-restricted diet protects the brain.
Finally, at 1:45 p.m., when you may, in fact, be experiencing a bit of postprandial weariness depending on what you ate for lunch, comes “The Importance of Sleep.” As SfN summarizes in its program, sleep plays a vital part in brain health, with far-reaching effects on memory and learning. Recent findings study sleep’s role in memory formation and storage, including how disruption of sleep can be detrimental to these functions. Researchers also suggest a possible therapy for sleep disturbances after a traumatic brain injury and examine how sleep may help improve control of brain-machine prosthetics.

A special emphasis on drug discovery and development
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Those who work in drug discovery, drug development and diagnostics can greatly benefit from attending Neuroscience 2014, SfN’s President Carol Mason stresses, noting: “Understanding the brain and nervous system is essential for developing effective drugs to treat the many devastating brain-related disorders that affect millions of people worldwide.”
“Many scientific presentations at the meeting directly relate to the area of drug discovery and development, especially those in Theme C, “ she adds, “which focuses on disorders of the nervous system, and Theme G, which focuses on novel methods and technology development.”
Lecture series with something for everyone
WASHINGTON, D.C.—In her role as SfN president, Carol Mason selected the four speakers for this year’s Presidential Lecture Series, “Cells of the Brain.” Notable neuroscientists will discuss their research relating to how neurons and glial cells function. These lectures will explore basic principles of neuronal cell biology, with implications for repair of retinal photoreceptors, stimulation of glial cells in the adult brain to generate new neurons, interneuron function in the cerebral cortex and signals that travel back from synapses to activate the cell nucleus.
The Featured Lectures will approach their topics with an eye toward historical developments in neuroscience. The speakers will cover topics such as understanding intergroup behavior and social hierarchies, long-term potentiation as a cellular model for learning and memory and the importance of neurotransmitters in brain function and disorders.
The Special Lectures with implications for drug discovery focus on circuitry for touch and mechanoreceptors for pain, cocaine-induced brain plasticity, nuclear export of RNA granules, exosome biology and the newly identified glymphatic system.
Physicians: improve competencies while earning CME credit
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Society for Neuroscience annual meeting is in part a forum for educating physicians in neuroscience. By attending lectures, symposia and minisymposia, the physician will receive both a broad overview of the field and information about the most recent, detailed research on specific topics. Abstracts for each plenary session contain brief descriptions of the material to be presented. Participation in these activities reinforces foundational concepts clinicians need as a part of their practice.
It is important that physicians comprehend the basic science that underlies clinical medicine. SfN’s annual meeting is the premier venue for this educational opportunity, the annual meeting program points out. Physicians learn about the most up-to-date, cutting-edge discoveries dealing with the brain and nervous system.
SfN is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians. CME registration must be completed before or during the annual meeting. Those who do not register before the conclusion of the meeting will not be able to request CME credits. CME registrants will receive the CME Supplemental Program via email two weeks before the meeting. It contains important information regarding the CME program, including disclosure information and instructions for obtaining CME credits.

Featured Lectures
David Kopf Lecture on Neuroethics:
Mind, Brain and the Ethics of Intergroup Behavior
Mahzarin Banaji, Ph.D.
Harvard University
Sunday, Nov. 16, 11:30 a.m.–12:40 p.m.
From the moment of birth, every human is a member of many groups. Group memberships create affiliations of “us” and “them” and sensitivity to status in social hierarchies. Human minds reflect these in myriad attitudes and beliefs that contain deep knowledge about the hidden presence or surprising absence of group love. Unveiling them by observing brain activity and behavior allows understanding of the natural and cultivated ways in which the meanings of in-group and out-group (self and other) are represented and group love is elusively tuned up and down.
Peter and Patricia Gruber Lecture:
Circuits and Strategies for Skilled Motor Behavior
Thomas M. Jessell, Ph.D.
Columbia University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Sunday, Nov. 16, 2:30 p.m.–3:40 p.m.
The capacity to generate movement on demand is a reflection of neural computations that integrate internal command and external feedback for the purpose of patterned motor output. Advances in deciphering the logic of motor systems have not yet resolved the strategies and mechanisms through which neural circuits direct motor behavior. This lecture will probe this issue through an analysis of motor circuits in the mammalian spinal cord, focusing on the functions of interneurons assigned to two feedback circuits, one that evaluates the fidelity of intended motor acts and a second that filters external sensory reports.
Albert and Ellen Grass Lecture:
Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Explicit Learning in the Hippocampus
Roger A. Nicoll, M.D.
University of California, San Francisco
Monday, Nov. 17, 3:15 p.m.–4:25 p.m.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) has remained the most compelling cellular model for learning and memory since its discovery nearly 50 years ago by Bliss and Lomo. The thousands of papers published on LTP can be overwhelming to sift through for experts and novices alike. In this lecture, Nicoll will probe the core properties of LTP, arguing that the dozens of proteins linked to the phenomenon are not essential, but rather modulate the threshold and/or magnitude of LTP.
History of Neuroscience Lecture:
The Messengers of the Mind
Floyd E. Bloom, M.D.
The Scripps Research Institute
Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2:30 p.m.–3:40 p.m.
At the cellular and molecular levels of operation, neurons and their circuits achieve brain functions by chemical signals, in which the principle agents, neurotransmitters, convey the signal from the sending neuron to the receiving neuron. The discovery of each of the chemical families of neurotransmitters (amino acids, amines and neuropeptides) provides important insight on understanding how brains function, changing our concepts of the complexities of short-term and long-term brain events and how medications can intervene in brain dysfunctions.

Special Lectures
Theme A: Development
Building a Synapse Through Nuclear Export of Large RNA Granules and Exosomes
Vivian Budnik, Ph.D.
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Studies in Drosophila are uncovering novel conserved mechanisms for synapse development and plasticity. These include signaling pathways from the membrane to the nucleus, promoting the nuclear assembly and export of ribonucleoprotein granules and their synaptic localization. In addition, pre- and postsynaptic compartments are shaped through transsynaptic transmission of exosomes carrying transmembrane proteins and RNA. This lecture shares lessons from the study of viruses and Wnt signaling that led to these discoveries and highlights their importance in disease.
Theme B: Neural Excitability, Synapses and Glia: Cellular Mechanisms
Exocytosis of Synaptic Vesicles—A Molecular Perspective
Reinhard Jahn, Ph.D.
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
Neurotransmitter release from neurons is mediated by Ca2+-dependent exocytosis of synaptic vesicles. The molecular machinery involves SNARE proteins that carry out membrane fusion together with other conserved proteins such as SM and CATCHR. Furthermore, specialized proteins such as synaptotagmins and complexins convey Ca2+ regulation. Jahn will discuss new insight on the mechanisms by which these proteins mediate membrane fusion at the synapse.
How Do You Feel? The Role of Mechanically Activated Ion Channels in Touch, Pain,
Hearing and Beyond
Ardem Patapoutian, Ph.D.
The Scripps Research Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Mechanosensation is perhaps the last sensory modality not understood at the molecular level. Ion channels that sense mechanical force are postulated to play critical roles in sensing touch/pain (somatosensation), sound (hearing), sheer stress (cardiovascular tone), etc. However, the identity of ion channels involved in sensing mechanical force has remained elusive. This lecture focuses on the identification, using functional genomics approaches, and characterization of novel mechanically activated channels including Piezo1 and 2.
Theme C: Disorders of the Nervous System
Genes and Environment Interaction During Development: Redox Imbalance in Schizophrenia
Kim Quang Do, Ph.D.
Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience, Lausanne University Hospital
Understanding how the interaction of genes and environmental risk factors during neurodevelopment leads to cognitive, affective and social impairment is a central challenge in psychiatric neuroscience. This lecture discusses the case of schizophrenia where these risk factors converge on a hub made of NMDAR hypofunction, neuroinflammation and redox imbalance/oxidative stress, affecting parvalbumine neurons and myelination that leads to structural and functional dysconnectivity. A translational approach toward prevention attempts to modify the disease course by redox modulators.
The Glymphatic System and Its Possible Roles in CNS Diseases
Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., DMSc
University of Rochester
Past work has focused on cellular recycling of proteins involved in neurodegeneration. This lecture expands the traditional framework to include a macroscopic clearance system—the glymphatic system—by which the brain exports waste products of neural metabolism. Glymphatic clearance is driven by convective CSF influx and is especially active during sleep. Macromolecules, such as amyloid beta, are literally swept out of CNS for ultimate degradation in the liver. As such, the glymphatic system represents a novel and unexplored target for treatment of neurological diseases.
Persistent Cocaine-Induced Plasticity and Synaptic Targets for Its Reversal
Marina E. Wolf, Ph.D.
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science
Cocaine addicts remain vulnerable to cue-induced craving and relapse even after long periods of abstinence. In a rat model of this phenomenon, cue-induced cocaine craving increases during withdrawal and remains high for months. This relies on strengthening of glutamate synapses in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region that translates motivation into action. This lecture will focus on mechanisms that maintain this plasticity, as well as strategies for reversing it and thus reducing craving. Potential targets include group I metabotropic glutamate receptors and protein translation.
Theme D: Sensory and Motor Systems
Learning and Relearning Movement
Amy J. Bastian, Ph.D.
Kennedy Krieger Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Human motor learning depends on a suite of brain mechanisms that are driven by different signals and operate on timescales ranging from minutes to years. Understanding these processes requires identifying how new movement patterns are normally acquired, retained and generalized, as well as the effects of distinct brain lesions. The lecture focuses on normal and abnormal motor learning and how we can use this information to improve rehabilitation for individuals with neurological damage.
The Sensory Neurons of Touch
David D. Ginty, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The somatosensory system endows us with enormous capacity for object recognition, texture discrimination, sensory-motor feedback and social exchange. Innocuous touch of the skin is detected by physiologically distinct low-threshold mechanosensory neurons (LTMRs). Ginty’s research team has amassed a genetic toolbox that enables interrogation of the physiology, morphology and function of LTMR subtypes and their synaptic target neurons in the spinal cord. Ginty will discuss morphological and physiological features of LTMRs and the organizational logic of LTMR projections and circuits in the central nervous system.
The Brain Is Needed to Cure Spinal Cord Injury
Tadashi Isa, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institute for Physiological Sciences
Recovery after neuronal damage is learned by the spared neural systems. Isa’s research team is studying the mechanism of recovery of hand dexterity after partial spinal cord injury using nonhuman primate models by combining multidisciplinary approaches such as kinetic analysis, electrophysiology, brain imaging, neuroanatomy and genetic manipulation with viral vectors. Isa will talk about the large-scale circuit reorganization that occurs through training and is critical for recovery, spanning over the spinal cord, motor cortices and even the limbic structures.
Theme E: Integrative Systems: Neuroendocrinology, Neuroimmunology and Homeostatic Challenge
Surprising Origins of Sex Differences in the Brain
Margaret M. McCarthy, Ph.D.
University of Maryland School of Medicine
Brain sex differences are established early by genes, hormones, environment and experience. Animal models reveal multiple endpoints modified by steroid hormones in a region-specific manner and that these changes underlie sex differences in adult behavior. This talk reviews the cellular and molecular mechanisms mediating masculinization involving inflammatory molecules, immune signaling, endocannabinoids and epigenetic changes. Illuminating the biological origins of brain and behavior sex differences is essential for enhancing health and preventing disease.
What Drives Sleep-Wake Cycles: Identification of Molecules and Circuits in Drosophila
Amita Sehgal, Ph.D.
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
This lecture will focus on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate sleep. The 24-hour rhythm of sleep is driven by a circadian clock, while the need to sleep comes from a homeostatic system, which ensures adequate sleep levels. The lecture will show how the use of Drosophila has led to the identification of mechanisms that generate a circadian clock and to some of the downstream circuitry required for circadian timing of behavior. It will also highlight recent developments in identifying molecular components and cellular circuits that underlie homeostatic regulation.
Theme F: Cognition and Behavior
Affective Neuroscience of Reward: Limbic Modules for Liking and Wanting
Kent C. Berridge, Ph.D.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Reward involves several different psychological components. “Wanting” a reward is generated by robust mesolimbic circuitry, whereas “liking” the same reward is generated by hedonichotspot circuitry that is neuroanatomically and neurochemically more restricted. This wantingliking difference has implications for addiction disorders. Yet surprisingly, forms of positive wanting and negative fear share some of the same brain mechanisms. New insight on the generation of these intense “liking,” “wanting” and other emotion states are emerging in affective neuroscience.
Generating and Shaping Novel Action Repertoires
Rui M. Costa, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Champalimaud Foundation
Many actions are learned anew throughout life, likely through a process of trial and selection. Researchers investigated how novel self-paced actions are generated and how actions that lead to particular outcomes are then selected. Research found that dopamine is critical for the initiation of novel actions and that plasticity in cortico-basal ganglia circuits is essential for action selection. With iteration, actions become organized in modules, and neural substrates of chunking emerge in these circuits.
Theme G: Novel Methods and Technology Development
Nanoscopy With Focused Light: Principles and Applications
Stefan W. Hell, Ph.D.
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
For most of the 20th century, scientists believed that lens-based light microscopy could not discern details finer than half the wavelength of light (>200 nm). In the 1990s, this barrier was overcome when it was discovered that fluorescent features can be resolved virtually down to molecular dimensions. This lecture discusses the simple, yet powerful, physical principles that allowed researchers to overcome the diffraction limit, with special emphasis on STED and RESOLFT microscopy. The lecturer will exemplify the relevance of these nanoscopy techniques to neuroscience.

SfN mission
  • Advance the understanding of the brain and the nervous system by bringing together scientists of diverse backgrounds, by facilitating the integration of research directed at all levels of biological organization and by encouraging translational research and the application of new scientific knowledge to develop improved disease treatments and cures.
  • Provide professional development activities, information and educational resources for neuroscientists at all stages of their careers, including undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral fellows, and increase participation of scientists from a diversity of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Promote public information and general education about the nature of scientific discovery and the results and implications of the latest neuroscience research. Support active and continuing discussions on ethical issues relating to the conduct and outcomes of neuroscience research.
  • Inform legislators and other policymakers about new scientific knowledge and recent developments in neuroscience research and their implications for public policy, societal benefit and continued scientific progress.

Artwork at Neuroscience 2014
Artists who create brain- or neurological-inspired pieces are participating in the third annual Art of Neuroscience exhibit in Washington, D.C. Come see these unique and interesting pieces inspired by the wonders of neuroscience.

Neuroscience 2014 press conference schedule
All press conferences will be held in room 202B of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The annual meeting will also serve as a showcase for neuroscience to the broader community, and its Washington, D.C., location should contribute to attracting a large representation from both the scientific and lay press. Attendance is limited to credentialed members of the press and research associates of panel members.

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