THE Official SfN 2011 Party Review

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Dr. Becca.


One of the most fun things about being a new professor is that I now call everyone I know in any kind of sciencey capacity my “colleague,” instead of “friend” or “quasi-mentor” or “ex-labmate” or “co-faculty person” or whatever. It feels insanely grown-up. So a colleague hosted a little fête at the Washington Plaza on Saturday and it was heaps of fun. Nice hotel bar! The open, loungey layout was perfect for modular mingling in style and that’s exactly what I did, dragging club chairs (and my whiskey) around to schmooze with various groups.

Highlight: Chatting with @Neuropolarbear and that magical, confusing moment when you realize your internet and IRL worlds are, for a split second, one single world.


My grad school entering class was twice the size of any before or after it and we like to think we really set the bar for social behavior at our Classy Institution. I probably shouldn’t say how low or high that bar is, but rest assured, it’s been set. On Sunday eve, all past and present members of our department/program descended upon a poor, unwitting hotel bar, where we hi-fived, sang our alma mater’s fight song, and reminisced about days gone by. OK, that last part isn’t completely true—I have no idea what our fight song is.

Highlight: Well it wasn’t my $15 no-bitters Manhattan, I’ll tell you that much.

When the grad school scene started to wind down, I made my way up to DuPont Circle to peek in on @iammattyoung1 and the UPenn crowd at Bier Baron. As promised, there were indeed drink specials, music, LOTS of nerds and I enjoyed myself immensely. Got some great new faculty advice from one of Penn’s more senior PIs, after which I dispensed some wisdom of my own upon a 1st year grad student. Pay it forward, I always say (I don’t actually say this.)

Highlight: Without question, watching Matt bust out the dance moves when “Hey Ya” came on the sound system.

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Human Brain Maps Flip During Spatial Navigation

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Moheb Costandi.

The brain encodes two distinct maps of the route from one location to another and switches between the two at different phases of the journey, according to new research presented earlier this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C.

We know that a brain structure called the hippocampus, in the medial temporal lobe, is essential for spatial navigation and for encoding spatial memories. It contains at least four different cell types that encode maps of the environment, but exactly how this occurs is unknown.

According to one model, the hippocampus encodes a Euclidean path, or straight line, between point A and point B. Another suggests that it encodes the true path between the two locations, incorporating diversions around obstacles.

Hugo Spiers and Lorelei Howard of the Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience at University College London wanted to investigate whether the brain might actually encode both of these paths.

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Saving the Best (Neurogenesis) for Last

blue dcx

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Jason Snyder. This is cross-posted at Functional Neurogenesis.

Previously, I wrote about new SfN data on the role for newborn neurons in regulating emotion. The second half of the SfN meeting rounded out the story because the bulk of the functional presentations focused on the role of new neurons in that other, classic function of the hippocampus: memory. Spanning synaptic plasticity, circuit function, and then linking it all to behavior, we have quite a complete story here.

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#Winning at SfN Poster Lotto with Vodka and the Vacillating Voles

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Zen Faulkes.

Browsing through the Neuroscience poster session, I was stopped by an unusual title. Almost all the posters around me featured mice, but I spotted “vole” in the title of this poster. I had to find out why these scientists zigged when all the others zagged.

The presenter, A.M. Anacker, had a great answer. Prairie voles are well known for pair bonding. This is the vole equivalent to going steady or marriage. This has been the subject of some very elegant neuroethology, which was partly responsible for the rise in people’s awareness of oxytocin.

This lab was trying to use the vole’s monogamous pair bonds to test for the potential effects of alcoholism on social relationships.

“I’m guessing your hypothesis is that the effect of alcohol on relationships will be bad.” They replied that they didn’t necessarily hypothesize that. I was thinking about severe alcohol use, but the presenter pointed out to me that in humans, alcohol has a reputation as a social lubricant. I couldn’t help but to think of the B.A.N.T.E.R. party later that evening.

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Synchronized Anxiety

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Lucas Glover.

In 1999, the functional organization of the hippocampus became a little more complicated. A functional double dissociation was identified (also here) between the two parts of this structure, the dorsal (dHPC) and ventral hippocampus (vHPC.) Since then, much research has focused on the dHPC and its role in spatial memory processing, but much less has been done on the vHPC. The vHPC is known to be involved in mediating anxiety-like behaviors and I sought out a cutting edge update on this proposed functional role here at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting. The emerging story: vHPC and prefrontal cortex (PFC) synchronize to a network oscillation known as “theta” to regulate anxiety behaviors.

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Your Introspective Insula

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Sandra Upson. This also appears on Scientific American’s Observations blog.

Bicycle Race

You’re struggling up a hill halfway through a ten-mile race. Your breathing is ragged, and your footfalls seem heavy. You lurch toward the water station, grab a cup, and gulp it down. Back in the middle of the pack, you feel strengthened and pick up the pace.

Your decision to lope over to the water station relied on your interoceptive sense—the ability to sense your internal state. When you talk to your physician about a nagging pain or discomfort, you are also acting on information passing through your brain’s interoceptive system. Facing a major mental and physical challenge, however, requires you to do more. You need to match your internal sensations with an assessment of what the environment will demand of you. Do you need to slow down to summit the hill, or can you power through to the next water station?

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What Were You Doing on July 10, 1991? Some People Remember Like It Was Only Yesterday

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Gary Stix and is cross-posted at the Scientific American Observations blog.

A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine reported in 2006 on a woman named Jill Price who could remember in great detail what she did on a particular day decades earlier. James McGaugh, Larry Cahill and Elizabeth Parker put the woman through a battery of tests and ascertained that she was not using any of the memory tricks that have been known to mnemonists for millennia.

Word got out, the media descended and the lab now receives calls every day from people who say they have the same ability as Price. Of the hundreds of people interviewed, 22 appear to exhibit what the researchers call highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), the detailed recollection of events that occurred in the distant past.

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Serotonin and Motivation for Food Intake = Sci’s New Hotness

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Scicurious.

One of the interesting things that you get to see when you go to the Society for Neuroscience meeting is what’s up and coming, what’s hot, and what’s kind of fading from the forefront of the hivemind of neuroscience. As Sci walks around, seeing posters, hearing talks, seeing colleagues and friends, I hear words bandied around. Optogenetics is the new hotness. Oxytocin? A little last year.

And then there’s food and reward. It’s a quiet murmur, but it’s getting stronger. Things like “food addiction” and “sucrose reward” start to go around. And my ears perk up, because I personally find this subject FASCINATING. And you should, too. After all, there is a veritable symphony controlling what, and when, and how much you eat.

And to that symphony we can add the soft oboe modulating sound of the serotonin receptors in the nucleus accumbens.

Pratt et al. “Selective serotonin receptor stimulation of the medial nucleus accumbens alters appetitive motivation for sugar reinforcement within a progressive ratio task” Wake Forest University. 103.15.

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For “Super Agers,” Bodies Age As Brains Stay Young

The Shadow Puppeteer from Kalabhavan

Early research on the sharpest octogenarians reveals unusually youthful brain regions

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Sandra Upson and is cross-posted at Scientific American’s Observations blog.

A nasty affliction sets into humans as they advance in years. The hair either disappears or thins into a fuzzy halo, the skin sags and bunches, while inside the brain, changes set in that slow our reaction times and cause our memories to fade. A steady, widespread thinning out of the brain’s cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, is thought to underlie some of this cognitive transformation.

But not everybody ages the same way—and not everyone, it turns out, suffers from memory decline and cortical thinning. The 48 octogenarians in the Northwestern University Super Aging Project were selected for having met or bested the average performance of a 50- or 60-year old on standard tests of recall. Magnetic resonance imaging scans of their brains corroborate their superior abilities: not only do super agers act the same as their younger counterparts, their brains look the same. “To see no change whatsoever was really surprising,” says Theresa Harrison, one of the researchers who presented preliminary findings from the project at a poster session at the 2011 Society for Neuroscience conference.

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