Archive for the 'Neuroscience' category

SFN 2015: What are the socials for?

The SFN Annual Meeting is famous for the overwhelming barrage of science being fire-hosed at you. It is intimidating and can be impersonal.

Almost equally famous, particularly for the experienced hands, are the evening thematic socials. These are gatherings that may be focused on a scientific topic (Dopamine), University, lab (for the big ones), academic society (yes, the competition comes to SFN to troll for members) and/or organized by vendors (such as a journal/publisher).

Here is a list of the things I accomplished at one social this year:

-Talked with a colleague from whom I requested an emergency grant support letter just prior to the meeting. I explained the wheres/whys and thanked her profusely.

-Chatted with a colleague who is in semi-competition with one of our research domains. We worked some stuff out, talked a little about plans and I hope pre-empted what could have been bad feelings on one side or another.

-I met a junior scientist (that I didn't know except second hand) who had asked me for a letter of support for a grant application on the recommendation of a PO. This person told me more about the project and I was able to comment on a few things.

-Met a philanthropist who donated to a lab in which I have an interest. I kid you not.

-Chatted with a more-senior member of my field who is of pretty high stature in a subfield. I would not necessarily have gotten to know this investigator absent this particular SFN social over the past couple of years. This PI commented about my research directions in a thoughtful way that shows she actually knows me beyond social recognition.

-Met a postdoc who is nearing the job market in a subfield in which I have slightly better than average ear-tuning about job openings. I will be able to forward things that I hear about to this person now.

That's off the top of my head. I am sure there were several less-obviously work-related conversations that in fact have a work-related component to them.

So there are two points.

First, when you hear people talking about this or that fantastic party they attended at SFN, remember that these socials are there for work and career related purposes.

Second, the party that I am referring to was BANTER, organized by Scientopia's very own Dr Becca over the past five or six years. The organizing theme is not any of the usual one that you might think of as being specific to your career interests. It is based on the online science community, most especially the Twitter-based neuroscience community. It is not screened for any particular subdomain of neuroscience, including mine, and yet I had the above-mentioned interactions.

The implication* of this latter observation is that you can engage in useful work-related conversations at almost any SFN social, which means that it can be less forced. Go to the ones where you have the most interest, or an "in" or whatever. The key is to

*I think it also points to how firmly BANTER has become implanted on the SFN social map. Well done Dr Becca, well done.

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Ask Drugmonkey: Call to the Hivemind on Behavioral Neuroscience coursework

A longtime Reader asks:

My colleagues and I are trying to finalize our revisions/updates to the courses we will require as part of a PhD in behavioral neuroscience. It would be helpful to get input on what others' experience is: how many credit hours of classwork are required, and what are seen as the essential items? [We're at 47 class credits currently, trying to reduce to either 41 or 38 but facing resistance to eliminating non-neuro psychology classes from requirements.]

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

I myself think that "eliminating non-neuro psychology classes" is a huge mistake and I join their local resistance. The field of so-called behavioral neuroscience already has far too many people who are insufficiently grounded in good old Behavioral Psychology.

If you take the current replication hoopla seriously, it is a bad idea to cut behavior out of the curriculum.

31 responses so far

Tracking sex bias in neuroscience conferences

Aug 31 2015 Published by under Careerism, Conduct of Science, Neuroscience

A Tweep directed my attention to of which the About page says:

The progress of science is best served when conferences include a panel of speakers that is representative of the field. Male-dominated conference programs are generally not representing their field, missing out on important scientific findings, and are one important factor contributing to the “brain-drain” of talented female scientists from the scientific workforce. As a group, BiasWatchNeuro has formed to encourage conference organizers to make every effort to have their program reflect the composition of their field.

Send information about conferences, seminar series or other scientific programs to

Check it out.

43 responses so far

Logothetis driven out of monkey research

May 04 2015 Published by under Animals in Research, Neuroscience, Science Politics

Neuroscientist Nikos Logothetis (PubMed) has informed his colleagues that he is stopping his long running nonhuman primate research program. An article in ScienceInsider by Gretchen Vogel details the issues:

Nikos Logothetis, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, says he will conclude his current experiments on macaques “as quickly as possible” and then shift his research to rodent neural networks. In a letter last week to fellow primate researchers, Logothetis cites a lack of support from colleagues and the wider scientific community as key factors in his decision.

This is not the "start" as was alleged by a Twitter person today. This is a long running trend that has been going on for decades. Productive laboratories that use nonhuman primates have been closing one by one. The decision by Harvard to shutter the New England National Primate Research Center was shocking in the way it violated the trend for picking off research labs one by one, but it was otherwise simply part of a larger trend.

And why are Universities and Research Institutes like Max Planck divesting themselves of monkey labs as quickly as possible? The Vogel article suggests an answer.

Logothetis’s research on the neural mechanisms of perception and object recognition has used rhesus macaques with electrode probes implanted in their brains. The work was the subject of a broadcast on German national television in September that showed footage filmed by an undercover animal rights activist working at the institute. The video purported to show animals being mistreated.

Logothetis has said the footage is inaccurate, presenting a rare emergency situation following surgery as typical and showing stress behaviors deliberately prompted by the undercover caregiver. ... The broadcast triggered protests, however, and it prompted several investigations of animal care practices at the institute. Investigations by the Max Planck Society and animal protection authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg found no serious violations of animal care rules.

Emphasis added. This is a typical scenario. In essence, animal rights terrorist fanatics are able to get Universities and Research Institutions to turn their backs on productive researchers simply because they don't want to deal with the headaches any longer. Or because they fear bad press. The accusations are almost always falsified. Baseless. But it doesn't matter. The Universities are running in absolute terror of the fanatics.

Of course it goes beyond that, which is why Logothetis called out his fellow scientists.

The [Max Planck] society is “one of the best scientific organizations worldwide,” Logothetis wrote, but it has failed to take concrete steps against the activists. “I am no longer willing or able to accept the never-ending stream of abuse from animal activists toward myself and my co-workers while seeing them encouraged to increase their aggressive activities by the tolerance and very slow reactions of scientific organizations. There is a clear lack of consequences for illegal actions such as infiltration, violation of privacy, theft of documents, and even intentionally caused distress to animals in order to film supposed animal torture or abnormal behavior,” the letter states.

Logothetis’s letter also faults his scientific colleagues in Tübingen for distancing themselves from the controversy. The neighboring Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology posted a disclaimer on its website emphasizing that there are no monkeys at the institute, he notes, and colleagues at the nearby Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research refused to issue a declaration of support.

Pastor Niemöller once observed:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

There are certainly parallels. Biological scientists express a range of attitudes about many things and the use of animals in research is one of them. From fears of coming under assault themselves if they speak up, to discomfort with making an informed decision about the allegations against Professor Logothetis to frank antipathy to research in monkeys, we span the same range as many lay people.

We are easily able to delude ourselves that if we just let the most-detested targets of the terrorists get thrown under the bus, we can live our own lives in relative safety for another few years. Maybe run out the clock on our career before things get too bad.

Money is tight, after all, and gee, well lets not do anything to rile up the nice little old ladies who are poised to donate a few million to the University, eh? Let's not do anything to draw the attention of animal right's Congress Critters. That might make things awkward for the NIH.

Normally this is the point of my post where I exhort you to fight. To stand up and oppose this assault on scientific research. Where I point out to you that after the monkeys (and cats and dogs) comes the goats and the rabbits from which you get your antibodies. Where I tell you that all this pressure is doing is to move certain kinds of research to non-Western countries in which the animal research protections are, at best, at the lever of the US in 1950.

This is the point where I am supposed to be telling you to call your Congress Critter.

But I can't.

Logothetis is not the first and he will not be the last.

We have had ample opportunity for biological scientists to see and be motivated to do something about this situation.

They have not done so.

So I would be wasting my breath.

43 responses so far

Nature publishes overwhelmingly proven "NEW AMAZING FINDING" ....because optogenetics!

The PR headlines are breathless and consistent:

Researchers Identify Brain Circuit That Regulates Thirst

Brain’s On-Off Thirst Switch Identified

The paper is here.

Yuki Oka, Mingyu Ye & Charles S. Zuker Thirst driving and suppressing signals encoded by distinct neural populations in the brain Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14108

The takeaway punch message from the Abstract:

These results reveal an innate brain circuit that can turn an animal’s water-drinking behaviour on and off, and probably functions as a centre for thirst control in the
mammalian brain.

Somebody like me immediately thinks to himself "subfornical neurons control drinking behavior? This is like the fifth lecture in Psych 105: Introduction to Physiological Psychology."

Let's do a little PubMed troll for "subfornical drinking". Yeah, we've known since at least the 1970s that the subfornical control of drinking behavior is essential, robust and mediated by angiotensin II signalling. We know how this area responds to blood volemia and natremia and how the positioning relative to the third ventricle and the function of the circumventricular organ vis a vis the blood-brain barrier permits this rapid-response. We know the signalling works through AT1 receptor subtype to excite subfornical neuronal activity via electrophysiological recording techniques and genetic deletions. Cholinergic mechanisms have likewise been identified as critical components via pharmacological experiments. Mapping of activated neurons has been used to identify related circuitry. The targets of subfornical neurons are known and their involvement in drinking behavior has likewise been characterized. Extensively. We know that electrical stimulation of these neuronal populations activates drinking in water sated rats, for goodness sake! We know there are at least three subpopulations of SFO neurons involved and something about the neurochemical signalling complexity.

There are review articles that you can read if you want to get up to speed.

The new work by Oka and colleagues simply repeats the above-mentioned electro-stimulation experiment from 1983 using optogenetic stimulation. Apart from this, maybe, we have an advance* in that they identified ETV-1 vs VGAT (GABA transporter) markers of two distinct subpopulations of neurons which have opposite effects on the motivation to consume water.

That's it.

This paper is best described as a very small, incremental advance in understanding of thirst and drinking behavior, albeit tarted up with the pizzaz of optogenetic techniques.

Yet it was published in Nature.

Someone really needs to introduce the editorial staff of Nature to PubMed.
*BTW, a Nature editor confirms this microscopic incremental advance is what is new about this paper.

66 responses so far

Sometimes the good guys win

Sep 30 2014 Published by under Neuroscience, NIH

I've mentioned a time or two that I think the DREADD approach is infinitely more useful than optogenetics for anything that matters.

So congrats to the team for this new award.


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative has the ambitious goal of elucidating how neuronal ensembles interactively encode higher brain processes. To accomplish this goal, new and improved methods for both recording and manipulating neuronal activity will be needed. In this application, we focus on technologies for manipulating neuronal activity. The major significance of this application is that we will provide an enhanced chemogenetic toolbox that allows non-invasive, multiplexed spatiotemporal control of neuronal activity in domains ranging from single synapses to ensembles of neurons. To achieve this, we will provide: Chemical actuators with improved pharmacokinetics and pharmacodyamics suited for use with current DREADDs in eukaryotes ranging from Drosophila to primates (Specific Aim #1) Photo-caged CNO and other chemical actuators to provide millisecond-scale control (Specific Aim #1) Novel DREADDs and 'split-DREADDs' targeted to distinct neuronal pathways to enable multiplexed interrogation of neuronal circuits (Specific Aims #2 and 3) Chemogenetic platforms with minimized desensitization and down-regulation (Specific Aim #3)

I am excited to see where this leads.

More awards under The BRAIN Initiative.

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Hard truths for supposed neuroscientists

This is the truest and best thing I have read on the internet today.

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Guest Post: Gender Sensitivity in Neuroscience is a Work in Progress

This is a guest post from someone who wishes to remain anonymous.



This week, the Society for Neuroscience opened its website allowing attendees to book their hotels for their annual meeting. The timing was couldn’t have been worse for the Vanderbilt neuroscience community given that on Monday, a former graduate student of the program leveled a disturbing series of accusations against neuroscientist Aurelio Galli. At least 10 of the 60+ alleged events of harassment occurred at SfN meetings. The year before the defendant claims she was subject to harassment, The Society for Neuroscience named Vanderbilt their ‘Neuroscience Training Program of the Year’.


In a 20 million dollar harassment suit filled in Nashville, sordid details were laid out of alcohol fueled harassment both in the lab and at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meetings in 2012 and 2013. The student, a recovering alcoholic, alleges she was subjected to unwelcome and embarrassing commentary from Galli about her perceived lesbianism, her sex life and her looks both in lab as well as in front of male professors.


Vanderbilt fired back saying they had investigated the claims and would vigorously defend themselves.  The medical center director and the chancellor were named as defendants, as were Mark Wallace, the head of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute and National Academy member and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Physiology, Roger Cone. Wallace and Cone were included for their failure to act on the student’s claims and protect her career.


For those outside the field, the neuroscience community seems to be holding down opposite poles in gender and racial equality. The leadership of both the Journal of Neuroscience and the Society are enviably gender balanced in the last decade. SfN was one of the first national societies to initiate meaningful career-long mentorship for women and minorities. Thanks in part to this commitment, women constitute 50% of most neuroscience graduate training programs. The national attrition of women from academic science is also evident in Vanderbilt’s neuroscience program which has an all male leadership and > 30% of its training faculty as women. The vast majority of these female faculty members are assistant professors.


Sending a female graduate student from a heavily male influenced neuroscience graduate program to SfN would present many sources of potential conflict. The first SfN meeting the student claims she was harassed at was in New Orleans, a city proud of its tradition of asking women to show their breasts for beads.


The female graduate student alleges that at SfN, her PI required her to attend a cocktail party on a boat where senior male scientists “became intoxicated and were allowed to make romantic and sexual advances on the students”. <I’ll insert my editorial opinion that news does not surprise me especially in light of the report this week from Kate Clancy that the majority of women in her survey of field scientists say they have been harassed with more than 20% reporting that they have been assaulted.>


Why would anyone attend boat party or any other kind of party where alcohol is flowing freely and fun is a much more clear objective than science?   For many trainees, this is often the only chance they have to spend time talking to well-published PIs. Presumably, at a party like this, senior investigators would be amenable to laid back conversations with trainees providing a rare chance to judge the character of potential future mentors.


These parties are the products of the bygone era of much larger gatherings held a decade or more ago by men who were SfN officers and investigators. Hosts had ample institutional ‘slush’ funds and open bar was the norm. The fabled parties hosted by former Emory Psychiatry chairman Charlie Nemeroff were more or less the height of partying for many members.


While at Emory, Nemeroff managed to get millions in personal wealth by consulting for drug companies while also studying those drugs using funding for his lab from NIMH. This income presumably enabled him to host these lavish events. Nemeroff’s parties would often devolve into factions that went skinny-dipping, participated in drinking contests and unwelcome ass grabbing, and yes, accomplished some important networking.


From the Venderbuilt lawsuit, “networking” was the reported benefit Galli touted as a reason for the trainee to attend the boat party. Indeed, Galli trained at Emory from 1993-1995 while Nemeroff was there, so these kinds of parties probably did help him advance his career. The expectation that a female recovering alcoholic would likewise benefit underscores a clear cultural clash that needs to be addressed by both the Vanderbilt community and the Society for Neuroscience.

31 responses so far

A chance to support research on Parkinson's Disease

Apr 23 2014 Published by under CrowdFund, LinkLove, Neuroscience, Public Health

The scientist known as @parklifensci (Parklife blog) on the Internet will be walking in the Parkinson's Unity Walk. The donation page says:

Why I'm walking:
Every walker and donor makes a difference by taking the Walk one step closer to finding the cause and cure for Parkinson’s. By joining together with thousands of others, we'll be empowering those who are living with the disease, and honoring those who lived with Parkinson’s.

Who I’m walking for:
Over 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson’s. 60,000 people are newly diagnosed every year – one person, every nine minutes. Walking and raising funds and awareness for research is my chance to help.

Why I'm supporting the Parkinson’s Unity Walk:
100% of donations go to research. The Parkinson’s Unity Walk is the largest grassroots event in the U.S., raising funds and awareness for research.

Ways to support my fundraising efforts:
There's strength in numbers so please join me. Donate, register to walk, and fundraise.

I encourage you to donate if you can or join the walk if you are nearby.

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Faces of Neuroscience: Jean A. King, Ph.D.

JeanKing Dr. Jean A. King [webpage] is Vice-Chair of Research and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School [PubMed; CV]. She completed her PhD in 1988 at NYU in Neurophysiology and conducted postdoctoral training at Emory. Dr. King's research record is diverse but can be characterized as focusing on neuroendocrine systems, stress, aggression, fear and substance abuse. Her work has also focused on advancing noninvasive imaging techniques in animal models using magnetic resonance imaging, in addition to the papers she has credit on three patents for neuroimaging advances. Professor King is the Director of the Center for Comparative Neuroimaging within the UMass Medical School. A recent paper from her laboratory (open access) applies imaging techniques to investigate white matter structural integrity in the brains of nicotine addicted human subjects that are associated with measures of physical dependence.

Over the years Dr. King's work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (a RePORTER search illustrates her NIH funding history as a Principal Investigator).

As you would expect for a scientist of this caliber, her expertise has been sought by an array of journals to provide peer review of manuscripts and by the NIH to serve on many grant review panels. I can confirm that Professor King is an excellent and insightful reviewer of grant applications with a persuasive and often humorous demeanor. Her comments were invariable informative, particularly for noob-ish grant reviewers (ahem). Similarly, Dr. King has supervised numerous trainees, participated on many service committees for her University, for the NIH and for multiple academic societies or entities. She has additional service in nonacademic settings. In this record there is a strong addition of service on issues important to women in science and in careers, generally.

I thank you, Professor Jean A King, for your long commitment to advancing our understanding of the brain and of affective disorder.


Disclaimer: I am professionally acquainted with Dr. King.

picture borrowed from

Series Note: The Diversity in Science Blog Carnival was created by D.N. Lee of the Urban Science Adventures! blog. In early 2009 she issued a call for a new blog carnival celebrating diversity in science and hosted the inaugural edition. The Diversity in Science Carnival #2 was hosted at Thus Spake Zuska under the theme Women Achievers in STEM - Past and Present. Prior entries from me have focused on Laura O'Dell, Carl Hart, Chana Akins, Percy Julian, Jean Lud Cadet,  and Yasmin Hurd.

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