What I learned while presenting at #SFN11

It’s hard to explore SFN when you’ve got your own poster to tend to. I thought I could hop around the development section before things got busy but there was no “before things got busy.” The design of the conference also can work against presenters because the presentations you’d like to see the most are being displayed simultaneously with your own. So next year I vow to present something really boring.

Of course, much can be learned while pinned down at your own poster. When you work in one lab, or one institution, your thoughts about the brain tend to have a specific focus based on the ideas of the people around you. Of course, new papers come out that challenge those thoughts but, man, papers move slooooowly. Scientists have not done a stellar job of using the internet to quickly communicate ideas. However, once a year at SFN a whole bunch of people come to your poster and give you their thoughts on the brain. Sometimes their thoughts are only presented in the language of distorted eyebrows and raised inflections but this is way better than typical social interactions with strangers, which usually go something like “You study brain cells/memory? Dude, I sure could use some more of those/that!”

So, what did my visitors think?

I had several visitors who specifically came by because they knew about me through the blog and through Twitter. Thank you for stopping by! You often never know if your online thoughts are useful, but I was happy to hear that several of you have used the blog as a teaching tool and a way to keep up with the field. I wish I could have these interactions with my readers more often than once a year at SFN. Then again I’d probably never be able to keep up with the comments so…no I didn’t say that – get engaged! I also heard one person, who does in vivo electrophysiology on my favorite brain regions, tell me that they’d tweet about neuroscience but they have nothing interesting to add to the conversation! Bollocks! Do you know how many in vivo electrophysiologists are on Twitter? Like, one? And how many experts are reviewing the literature on Research Blogging? Your knowledge is valuable. I would follow you in an instant.

“At first there was agreement on the behavioral function of neurogenesis but now everything is going in different directions.” Yes! Adult neurogenesis is a great example of the more you learn the more confused you get! Things may have seemed congruent 5 years ago but that was when there was only half a dozen studies that had examined the problems that arise when new neurons are ablated. Since then people have gone on to study more types of behavior and, as is also the case with the hippocampus, new neurons have been found to contribute to more and more types of behaviors. This has also given us additional opportunities for failed replication, and therefore doubt and confusion. One visitor commented on the recent paper that found memory impairments only if you kill new neurons after learning and we agreed that killing new neurons before behavioral testing could allow for other neurons to compensate, and make it appear that these new neurons are not doing anything significant. Of course, we have shown that often (e.g. at “baseline”) new neurons may be dispensable but that when an animal is stressed they are critical. And so explanations are emerging as to why some observe a behavioral function for new neurons and others do not, it’s just that it seems to be unbearably slow or remarkably fast depending on your mood.

I learned that there’s someone out there studying neurogenesis as related to maternal behavior….IN SHEEP! And they find that these neurons mature very slowly, like, primate slow. I love it when we think we have things completely figured out and then the data goes a totally different direction when you throw wool into the equation. Like, if we put cute little wool sweaters on our mice, would that make new neurons mature slower? One of the next big questions. Testable. Do it.

For those that missed my poster, fear not, for I have submitted it to Nature Precedings and will notify you here when they’ve posted it (couple days). For those that came to my poster today, sorry, you didn’t have to come to my poster.



  1. Ha well it’s more that I have a grand total of two neuroscientists following me so my fun but nerdy links fall on deaf ears. I’ll try and tweet it up a bit more though

  2. I’m a civilian (non-scientist) who has always been fascinated by the brain, and who (un)fortunately was able to experience a lot of neurogenesis personally. In 1998 I experienced a brain trauma that sent me to the emergency room unable to figure out how to put a peanut and butter sandwich together or count backwards from 100 by 9’s. Or help my children with their homework, or finish sentences, or understand jokes, and so on. No diagnosis, for various reasons. Twelve years later I am nearly recovered (short term memory still poor). And still fascinated. Perhaps someday I will understand what happened to me. Meanwhile, I am enjoying your comments. Cheers., Barbara

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