Monday, October 15, 2012

SfN Neuroblogging 2012: drunk birds, worms, and robot noses

After a distressing night of not having wifi in my hotel, I am finally able to put this post up.  All of the previous "SfN Neuroblogging" posts can be found here.

And now 3 more highlights from day 2 of SfN:

a bird and his beer (source)
1. Can songbirds be a good model organism in which to study the effects of alcohol? Well yes and no. A poster (207.14), presented by C.R. Olson explains that songbirds don't seem to get addicted to alcohol, so they might not make good subjects for alcoholism studies. But alcohol does effect their song learning. Basically when low levels (below the legal human driving limit) of alcohol were maintained in the songbird's bloodstream while the bird was learning its song, the bird crystallized its song earlier.  That is it stopped practicing and settled on a song faster that the sober birds. The meaning of this is still unclear, as the researchers still need to analyze how 'good' the songs are.

2. What can worms tell us about the relationship between voltage and calcium?  A poster (174.03) directly compared a voltage sensitive dye to a calcium sensitive dye it the C. Elegans nematode. H. Shidara's poster explains that the calcium and voltage signals in the AIY neuron do not necessarily correspond. When the voltage was elevated in the soma and dendrites, the calcium was really only elevated in the dendrites, not the soma. I didn't quite catch the putative explanation for this from the researchers, but I suspect the huge surface to volume difference in a cell body compared to a dendrite might have a strong effect on the calcium dye, but not the voltage dye.

3. Finally, a poster (174.06) explains a new method for making an odor sensor. C. Pickford explains that the drosophila larva (commonly referred to as a maggot) has only so many odor receptors but can detect gazillions of different odors (I don't have the exact numbers here). So basically he is trying to make an odor sensor modeled off of the actual larva nose. This would serve two main purposes: 1. to create an odor sensor that can sense many odors and 2. to actually understand how the larva might be processing the information from its few odor receptors to detect many scents. 

© TheCellularScale


  1. fyi, on the worm one: it was calculated awhile ago that c. elegans neurons should all be isopotential, ie, not vary in voltage. Generally, worm researchers use calcium dyes because there aren't na+ spikes but rather long ca2+ depolarizations, but there's a lot of evidence that the ca2+ depolarizations at the cell bodies are due to internal calcium release rather than calcium channels. so the poster doesn't really come as much of a surprise, overall.

    Hendricks et al had a poster (and recent Nature paper) showing calcium compartmentalization in a c. elegans neuron; the idea seems to be that compartmentalization may be primarily affecting local plasticity and molecular pathways

    1. Interesting! I'll check out that Hendricks paper.