The 2006 Lectures in Biology: Brain Plasticity: From Molecules to Behavior

We have come to accept the notion that, in general, only animal forms of life can extract information from past experiences and these "inputs" contribute to what we call learning. We further accept that these learned experiences can be stored and recalled (memorized) and ultimately can be re-combined and added to new experiences, a process we call creativity and imagination. The first sentence is probably not true - bacteria can learn, or can be conditioned to exhibit reproducible and predictable responses to certain external stimuli. However, the second part (referring to memory and creativity) is definitely found only in animals; it becomes progressively more complex and powerful as we ascent the evolutionary scale and reaches dramatic and apparently discontinuous hights in humans. The processes of learning and memory are functions of the cathedral of our nerve system, our brain. We become aware and utilize these functions by having them coupled to the motor systems of our various types of muscles that execute the commands the brain generates.

We know that this neuro-muscular coupling involves chemical and electrochemical fluctuations within and between the neurons, fluctuations that can propagate over long distances in very short time. We know most of the players in this "wiring diagram", several of the underlying chemical agents that evoke, help transmit and amplify the signals. We know much less about the specific events that are at the root of learning and memory associated with our neural functions. Presenting an up to date picture of the state of the art in this area is the purpose of this year's Onassis Lectures in Biology: The molecular basis of memory, learning and the integration of the learned processes into outward effective events and functions. The speakers of this event are world leaders and have innovated and repeatedly pioneered in those areas.

Some of the questions to be addressed in this meeting are:
Is there a molecular basis for memory? What are the essential chemical players in this process? How "plastic" and how permanent is this process? How brain functions get compartmentalized and what constitute boundaries of such compartments? How such compartments interact, if and when they do? What is the difference between learning and habit formation? How can some habits become addictions? What factors contribute to cellular replacement (regeneration) of brain compartments? Are such replacement processes limited to only certain foci or do they represent a general feature of the brain tissue? Can we augment such replacement processes? How outputs from individual neurons become integrated into a unified and apparently purposeful motor response? How our brains respond to space travel? Will our attempts to visit other plants be limited by the physiology of our brain? To what extent our answers to such questions can help us to controlling or repair neurological disorders?

We know that brain organization can be modified by our experience and such modifications are thought to contribute to the expression of biological individuality. The structure of human brain although conforming to the general framework provided by the genetic information, is nevertheless under continuous reform by the electrical activity of the brain itself, including experience-dependent activity. It has been suggested that a "paradox" of the evolution of the human species is the selection of genes that allow the species to "escape" genetic determinism by endowing it with considerable plastic changes of brain architecture and ultimately human behavior. Therefore the ultimate structure of our brain is as much a result of our personal history and is not simply confined to pre-determined, inflexible networks. As the famous British neurobiologist Steve Rose has said: Not all is in our genes.

Eric Kandel
Prof., Columbia University, New York
Nobel Prize (2000) in Medicine

Apostolos Georgopoulos
Prof., University of Minnesota Medical School

Ann Graybiel
Prof., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston

James Lackner
Prof., Brandeis University, Boston

Fernando Nottebohm
Prof., The Rockefeller University, New York

Panayiota Poirazi
Assoc. Researcher, Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, FORTH

Irini Skaliora
Researcher, IIBEAA, Academy of Athens
Monday 17 July 09:00 -09:45 r g i s t r a t i o n
  09:45 - 10:00 Welcome speech by G.Thireos, Director of IMBB/ FORTH
  10:00 - 11:15 "The Molecular Logic of Long Term
Memory Storage"   by Eric Kandel
  11:15 - 11:45 B r e a k
  11:45 - 13:00 "Animal Models of Mental Disorders"   by  Eric Kandel
  13:00 - 14:30 L u n c h  
Tuesday 18 July 09:30 - 10:45 " Building Neural representations of Habits " by Ann Graybiel
  10:45 - 11:15 B r e a k
  11:15 - 12:30 "Extreme Habits: Toward Molecular Mechanisms" by Ann Graybiel
  12:30 - 14:00 L u n c h  B r e a k
  14:00 - 15:30 "Developmental Plasticity across the senses: learning to match sound and vision by Irini Skaliora
Wednesday 19 July 09:30 - 10:45 "Neural Mechanisms of Serial Order and Memory Scanning"  by  > Apostolos Georgopoulos
  10:45 - 11:15 B r e a k
  11:15 - 12:30 "Neural Mechanisms of Serial Order and Memory Scanning"  by >Apostolos Georgopoulos
  12:30 - 14:00  L u n c h  B r e a k 
  20:00 "The Long and Short of Long Term Memory " by  Eric Kandel - PUBLIC LECTURE
Thursday 20 July 09:30 - 10:45 "Vocal Ontogeny in Songbirds: Models for Vocal Learning"  by  Fernando Nottebohm
  10:45 - 11:15 B r e a k
  11:15 - 12:30 "Neuronal replacement in Adult Brain and its Possible relation to Learning"  by  Fernando Nottebohm
12:30 - 14:00 L u n c h   Break
  14:00 - 15:30 "The Multiplicative Neuron"  by  Panayiota Poirazi
Friday 21 July 09:30 - 11:15 "Human Sensory-Motor Adaptation to Non-terrestrial Force Environments"  by James Lackner
  11:15 - 11:45 B r e a k
  11:45 - 12:30 Closing remarks
  12:30 - 14:00 L u n c h