The changing brain - Insights into the mechanisms of neural and behavioral adaptation to the environment

Research Area: Research Year: 2013
Type of Publication: Article
Authors: Bergersen, L. H.; Bramham, C. R.; Hugdahl, Kenneth; Sander, M.; Storm-Mathisen, J.
The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience was awarded for the third time in September 2012, by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo. The accompanying Kavli Prize Symposium on Neuroscience, held in Bergen and Trondheim, was a showcase of excellence in neuroscience research. The common theme of the Symposium presentations was the mechanisms by which animals adapt to their environment. The symposium speakers - Michael Greenberg, Erin Schuman, Chiara Cirelli, Michael Meaney, Catherine Dulac, Hopi Hoekstra, and Stanislas Dehaene - covered topics ranging from the molecular and cellular levels to the systems level and behavior. Thus a single amino acid change in a transcriptional repressor can disrupt gene regulation through neural activity (Greenberg). Deep sequencing analysis of the neuropil transcriptome indicates that a large fraction of the synaptic proteome is synthesized in situ in axons and dendrites, permitting local regulation (Schuman). The nature of the 'reset' function that makes animals dependent of sleep is being revealed (Cirelli). Maternal behavior can cause changes in gene expression that stably modify behavior in the offspring (Meaney). Removal of a single sensory channel protein in the vomero-nasal organ can switch off male-specific and switch on female-specific innate behavior of mice in response to environmental stimulation (Dulac). Innate behaviors can be stably transmitted from parent to offspring through generations even when those behaviors cannot be expressed, as illustrated by the elaborate burrowing behavior in a rodent species, in which independent genetic regions regulate distinct modules of the burrowing pattern (Hoekstra). Finally, at the other extreme of the nature-nurture scale, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis in children and adults identified a brain area specifically involved in reading (Dehaene). As the area must originally have developed for a purpose other than reading, such as shape recognition, this illustrates the use of a previously formed neural structure to tackle a new challenge.
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