Friday Evening Lecture Series – Grass Lecture – “Neural Plasticity: From Synapse to Perception”

Date(s) - 07/19/2013
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Lillie Auditorium

Friday Evening Lecture SeriesGrass Lecture – “Neural Plasticity: From Synapse to Perception”
Mu-ming Poo, University of California, Berkeley
July 19, 2013, 8:00 PM, Lillie Auditorium

Introduction by Jeff Lichtman, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University

PooPicture10 (2)Lecture Abstract:
The cognitive functions of the brain, such as learning and memory, depend on the ability of neural circuits to change their properties of signal processing after these circuits have been used by the organism. Many of these use-dependent changes (“plasticity”) occur at synapses, where signals are transmitted between nerve cells (neurons).

Depending on the pattern of neuronal activities, repetitive synaptic transmission could cause long-term potentiation (LTP) or long-term depression (LTD) of the synapse in its efficacy for future transmission.  I will summarize our studies on how the timing of neuronal activities (spikes) in the pre- and post-synaptic neurons determines whether a synapse undergoes LTP or LTD, a phenomenon known as “Spike Timing-Dependent Plasticity” (STDP), and how STDP may provide the mechanism for coding and storing the information on the temporal sequence and interval of sensory signals, two key elements of episodic memory.  I will also discuss in general the idea that neural plasticity is the main factor that shapes the development of neural circuits, and that neural plasticity offers the potential for functional recovery from injuries and diseases of the adult brain.

Finally, to argue that higher cognitive functions in humans such self-awareness may originate from experience-dependent neural plasticity, I will present preliminary findings showing that mirror self-recognition, a cognitive function known to be limited to humans and great apes, could be acquired by rhesus monkeys following training for visual-somatosensory association.

Dr. Mu-ming Poo
is the Paul Licht Distinguished Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has been a faculty member since 2000. Previously, he had served on the faculty of University of California at Irvine, Yale University, Columbia University, and University of California at San Diego. Since 1999, he also served as the Director of Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

 In the 1970s, Dr. Poo developed a number of theoretical and experimental approaches to the study of mobility and localization of proteins in cell membranes. During the 1980s, he developed novel uses of patch-clamp recording methods in studying transmitter secretion during nerve growth and synaptogenesis. In the 1990s, he made major contributions to the understanding of axon guidance and synaptic plasticity.  His more recent studies have also contributed to the formulation of a quantitative spike-timing dependent Hebb’s rule for activity-dependent synaptic modification.

 Dr. Poo received a B.S. in physics from the Tsinghua University (Taiwan) and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University. He has received numerous honors including the Javitz Neuroscience Investigator Award of NIH (1998), Ameritec Prize (2001), Docteur Honoris Causa from Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris (2003), P.R. China International Science & Technology Cooperation Award (2005), and Qiushi Award (2011). He is a member of Academia Sinica (Taiwan) and National Academy of Sciences, and a foreign member of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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