Sunday, November 21, 2010

SfN 2010 Take-aways

Things that I learned from posters, presentations and lectures at SfN this year will play themselves out in my research and career direction, but there were other notables which were not so directly translatable.  Here are my not-necessarily-scientific take-aways from SfN 2010:

1.  Had anyone told me growing up that learning multiple languages with any degree of volubility would be very important in my communication with other scientists, I would have put more effort into Spanish, German and French.  Four years of Latin does me worlds of good in reading, but in deciphering various accents and breaking language barriers... repetition and speaking loudly were my only saving tools last week.  It is very humbling that all of these wonderful minds, to whom English is a second language, have learned it so fluently.

2.  Although it was immense fun to spend a week on a yacht in a nearby harbor, I think that I would have gotten more out of staying closer to the convention center.  By the time 7pm approached and I had mosied back to my boat, had a bite to eat (on those nights when we did not go out to eat) and relaxed, another twenty minute drive back to the convention center area for any of the satellite events was less appealing.  ... and I do regret missing out on some of those -- thank goodness for Neuroblogger reports!

3.  Limiting my content was certainly helpful, and the best approach for me.  What happened was that I made sure that I got to everything on my list, and then ventured out into other subfields (olfaction, methodologies, learning and memory).  Next year, I think I will venture even further, as I still limited this extended content to its relation to my methodologies, or my circuits, or my disease.

4.  Taking two afternoons to explore the city was essential.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SfN 2010: Tuesday

Tuesday was the biggest day of the conference, for me.  While I maintained my initial pace during poster sessions, I soon discovered that on days when those posters were scattered throughout the convention hall, my body was substantially more taxed by the end of the day.  Tuesday was no exception, as the morning encompassed introducing myself via poster speculation to three potential mentors, each in a different subtopic of the session.

I succeeded in making a fool of myself in introduction to one such PI, by attempting to hide behind other poster surveyors until I was equipped with intelligent questions about his research.  My scheme unraveled when he recognized the name on my badge and made the introduction himself.  I spun a subterfuge of embarrassed chatter until recovering my intellect.  Fortunately, he stopped by my poster in the afternoon and was enthusiastic and impressed.  Score.

A dear late post doc of our neighboring lab, now working in industry as a medical liaison, imparted some wisdom regarding the giant that is SfN.  "What is unique about this conference," she said, "is that what your experience here changes each year as your career changes."  When you are a graduate student, your mission is to soak up any and all information about other research that may help design your own.  When you are a post doc, you are sponging in addition to networking.  When you are a PI, you are peppering your collaborative learning with reunions and lunch dates.  In industry, she says, you are honing in on studies where drug intervention studies may be beneficial for your company, as well as attending committee meetings.  SfN is consistently a whole 'nother world  defined by where you are outside of it.

And, I suppose, as a pre-pre-doc, my mission this year was to get my feet wet, to network, to get some face time with potential mentors and, of course, benefit from poster feedback on my own research.  In all of these regards, I believe I was successful.

Tuesday afternoon was my poster session, and though I initially planned on holding the fort for two of the four hours, both my boss and myself were present for almost the entire session breaking away for no more than half an hour each to visit other posters.  Thank goodness for my wonderful colleague who fielded questions in our brief absences even though she works with a different model!  By half an hour into the session, the traffic in front of our poster was boggling.  My boss and I ended up tag-teaming presentation/question rounds for different handfuls of people. The feedback was spectacular, with several unique directions offered, several potential collaborations resulting and a few friends made.

What's more, I was totally starstruck by the flow of big names in front of our poster whose badges I recognized from manuscripts that had jump-started my career or helped to define my work, but whose faces were met for the first time.  At one point I remember surreptitiously asking my boss, "is that the Mike Salvatore?"  What a rush to present and discuss your work with minds whose contributions to neuroscience have shaped your own, and what an even greater honor to be commended by them for your ideas.  These folks are all friends of my boss -- you come to know or at least meet most of your field at some point -- and he got a kick out of my agog state.

Monday, November 15, 2010

SfN 2010: Monday

Monday morning's highlight was the Experience-Dependent Synaptic Plasticity and Neurogenesis in the Degenerating and Injured Brain nanosymposia session.

Carl Cotman, professor of neurology at UC Irvine and a potential mentor, spoke about the effects of exercise in mice, canines and humans.  Dr. Cotman specializes in Alzheimer's (AD) research, and presented a collection of studies highlighting the effect of exercise on blood flow, amyloid aggregation and instance of BDNF.  In transgenic mouse models of AD (Tg2576), Cotman discussed reduced amyloid and increased BDNF with exercise.  In humans with AD, increased vessel volume and blood flow was observed with fast walking, corroborative with decreased amyloid reported by Liang et al in the Annals of Neurology this year.

Most notably, Dr. Cotman proposed that the brain "has a memory for exercise."  Exemplifying this statement was his study from 2005 where AD rats exercised on a treadmill for one week, resulting in increased BDNF in the hippocampus.  Some of these rats proceeded without exercise in the following week which resulted in decreased BDNF levels.   These levels increased rapidly when the animals were exercised for an additional week to levels beyond those revealed due to the initial exposure, a phenomenon that typically takes weeks to induce in naive rats.  This "memory for exercise" may prove to be key in designing rehabilitative exercise programs.

Mike Jakowec and Giselle Petzinger, respectively professor and clinician-researcher at USC, represented the recent work of their labs as well as the strong collaborative efforts within USC's Neuroscience labs.  Advocate of exercise in rodent models of Parkinson's disease, Dr. Petzinger presented evidence that exercise may be working through the indirect dopamine pathway (D2) to aide motor recovery.  Mot strikingly to me, their lab has reported that 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) results in dopamine neuron spine loss specific to the D2 pathway via [F]Fallypride radiotracing (PET scan).  Exercise in their MPTP mouse model results in a 98% increase in the striatal D2 receptor.  This research suggests some very interesting targets for intervention.

The David Kopf lecture on Neuroethics was given this year by Hank Greely, professor of law at Stanford, and a professor by courtesy of genetics at the School of Medicine.  Beyond delivering a lecture as eloquently as one will ever hear, the poignant stars of Dr. Greely's talk were copious.

Dr. Greely opened by saying that the "ethical issues of neuroscience are 10 years behind those in genetics," referring to the paradigm sweeps that genetic discoveries have prompted (i.e. eugenics).  He elaborated that the implications of neuroscientific discovery were "more important than [those of] genetics, made so by immediacy and power."  Namely, neurological dysfunction has very present consequences, whereas genetic abnormalities must emerge on the physiological level before they can be acted upon.  For instance, if you were to find yourself predisposed to Alzheimer's through genetic testing, you would be protected from discrimination by the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act of 2008.  However, there exists no such protection if you are diagnosed via MRI.

Humans as mind-readers, MRI's distinguishing between conscious and unconscious vegetative states, and the responsibility of humanity to discern what is an adverse disease and what is just a condition that makes "us" (the indirectly affected "us") uncomfortable:  these are some of many issues with which neuroscientists can become dangerously dissociated, but the bench does not separate us from the issues produced by our discoveries.  The mindfulness of scientists guides social consequences.

I refer readers to Stanford's Neuroblog and The Neuro Dilettante for more adequate coverage of Greely's lecture.
Liang KY, Mintun MA, Fagan AM, Goate AM, Bugg JM, Holtzman DM, Morris JC, & Head D (2010). Exercise and Alzheimer's disease biomarkers in cognitively normal older adults. Annals of neurology, 68 (3), 311-8 PMID: 20818789

Adlard, P. (2005). Voluntary Exercise Decreases Amyloid Load in a Transgenic Model of Alzheimer's Disease Journal of Neuroscience, 25 (17), 4217-4221 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0496-05.2005

Sunday, November 14, 2010

SfN 2010: Sunday

Before I extrapolate on neuroscientific happenings, I must take this opportunity to reflect on how stellar it is that I am staying on a docked yacht, and drinking margaritas at sunset on the deck of said yacht with two extraordinary people.


Sunday was booked with two four-hour poster sessions and one afternoon symposium.  The morning was filled with Spinal Cord Injury and Parkinson's Therapies sessions, with a not-so-quick diversion to the triple-letter aisles where one of my prospective graduate program PIs sported sixteen -- count 'em, sixteen -- posters on expression of the immediate early gene Arc in various brain regions associated with cognition in models of aging and environmental stimulation (Session 204. Learning and Memory: Genes and Aging).

The afternoon's symposium of choice was Silvia Arber's talk on Motor Circuits, which was excellent but for a somewhat misleading in title.  This particular neuroscientist sees "Connecting Motor Circuits" and expects a comprehensive discussion of relationships of both central and peripheral nervous system motor circuits.  Instead, Dr. Arber focused on her research, which is entirely peripheral and has become famous for classifying the proprioceptive identity of the spinal cord; specifically, the innervation of the dorsal and ventral horns, and during what movements their respective peripheral pathways are activated.  Numerous beautifully conducted studies were exemplified during her talk.

An afternoon of inducing, protecting against and ameliorating dyskinesias brought me back to my element, but my brain was re-tuned once more with a quick tour through the vendor exhibits.  The vendors first open shop on Sunday, and traffic through their booths was daunting.  Free widgets, pens and t-shirts galore spanned the entire length of the convention center; I am told that there were significantly more vendors this year than ever before.

Adorned with newly acquired tote bags full of free scincey goodies, off we went to the The Fish Market on Harbor Drive to pick up some prawns to accompany our margaritas -- peeled, cooked and devoured on our boat.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

SfN 2010: Saturday

Glenn Close has been a heroine of mine since 1991, when I saw her in Sarah Plain and Tall.  Today, I met her... almost.

Glenn Close, her sister Jessie Close and nephew Calen Pick were the introduction to my first SfN.  Their stories of battling bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder were strong, and deeply touching. has done a fantastic job of reaching out to people with or touched by mental illness; and communicating to the world that mental illness is a physical ailment like any other of the body, not to be isolated as demonic or self-inflicted.  Calen spoke of the self-hatred coincident with not being able to control your own stream of consciousness or emotion, and the effort that bringchange2mind puts toward erasing this attitude from Consumers, survivors and loved ones whose lives are impacted.  One in four families is touched by mental illness, Glenn reminded us.

Jessie and Calen gave very personal insight into their struggles to find and hold on to reality, and opened a week-long convention of cutting edge research by suggesting that neuroscientists like those present were responsible for their current states of health.  It is so infrequently in science that people look at your work and say, "this is so beautiful, what you've done."  And it was profoundly impactful to me to hear Calen Pick thank the present body of researchers for their work.  From an artist, that is an especially beautiful complement.

The afternoon's first poster session was overwhelming only in that I did not expect to be pumping so much adrenaline.  Twenty-six posters interrupted by a nanosymposium was a good pace.  However, my session frequency was all over the place, and I spanned the length of the convention center from the single to the triple letter aisles more than once.  The following days were much more focused.

Nearing 5pm, as I walked out of the center I passed Glenn and Jessie Close and Calen Pick in the company of their entourage.  In the ten seconds during which I approached and then passed them by, I made eye contact, smiled and nodded respectfully, chickened out of approaching and asking to shake the hand of my emotive activist childhood heroine, and regretted it.  Thus began the epicness of my first SfN. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Society for Neuroscience, 2010: An Introduction

The next several posts will be SfN-centric, as it is my first year of both attending and presenting and I am teeming with fledgling excitement.  So that I am not undone by the insidious and unrealistic lure to see and do everything, I have been following the guidance of a few Neurobloggers and of my boss.

After going through the almost innumerable legions of posters and symposia in the Meeting Planner by session, then doing separate name and keyword searches, I realized that getting the most out of every one of the many hundreds of titles I had ear marked was just not realistic.  Though I have not slimmed down my itinerary, I have taken the sage advice of The Neuro Dilettante, and acknowledged that even if I visit all the posters on my itinerary, I will have only seen a minute fraction of what this mass international gathering has to offer, and that is fine.

I am told that many first-timers (mostly grad students) burn out within the first two days attempting to see and learn about everything.  In the interest of surviving the entire week, I will not be rushing about with my laptop or busily scratching volumes of notes.  Instead, the most key research conclusions or methodology along with contact information will be incorporated into my notepad.  And if I happen to spend a little extra time at the posters presented by the PI's with whom I'm interested in doing my PhD work (in two years, universe willing)... so be it.

And I intend to exploit the free give-aways of the vendors who have taken the time to email me with specific requests for demonstration and face time.  Can one have too many key chain laser pointers or letter openers? 

I will also be equipped with thumb tacks, mini-poster hand-outs, sharpies, bottled water, a sweater (yes, though San Diego will be between 70-80 degrees the convention center is kept at a chill), and convention center floor plans.

Following the high of seeing Glen Close, heroine of my childhood, on Saturday afternoon, the Navigating the Meeting seminar may be just the thing to settle me into conference mode -- I highly recommend this tool, especially for those who do not yet have plans of attack.  I intend to be a SfN Ninja by the end of this.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

On Choosing a Publishing Name: Part Deux

When the proofs of my first publication were forthcoming and reaching decision became pressing, choosing my publishing name was not nearly so convoluted as I had built it up to be.

Though my maiden name is as unique as they come, my husband is a huge part of my work and why I am able to create what I do.  His last name is the one with which I have decided to publish, and my maiden name will be assembled in an unmistakable set of initials.  This representation, I have decided, adequately honors all in my family while keeping my title reasonably concise and fairly recognizable while avoiding the logistical nightmare of separating legal and publishing names.