The Neuro's Dorothy J. Killam Lecture was established in 2004 to recognize women of influence in business, science, politics or the humanities.
Speaker: Gina Turrigiano, PhD
Joseph Levitan Chair, Department of Biology, Brandeis University, Waltham, USA
Abstract: Our brains must generate and maintain stable activity patterns over decades of life, despite the dramatic changes in circuit connectivity and function induced by learning and experience-dependent plasticity. How do our brains acheive this balance between opposing need for plasticity and stability? Over the past two decades, we and others have uncovered a family of “homeostatic” negative feedback mechanisms that are theorized to stabilize overall brain activity while allowing specific connections to be reconfigured by experience. Here I discuss recent work in which we demonstrate that individual neocortical neurons in freely behaving animals indeed have a homeostatic activity set-point, to which they return in the face of perturbations. Intriguingly, this firing rate homeostasis is gated by sleep/wake states in a manner that depends on the direction of homeostatic regulation: upward-firing rate homeostasis occurs selectively during periods of active wake, while downward-firing rate homeostasis occurs selectively during periods of sleep, suggesting that an important function of sleep is to temporally segregate bidirectional plasticity. Finally, we show that firing rate homeostasis is compromised in an animal model of autism spectrum disorder. Together our findings suggest that loss of homeostatic plasticity in some neurological disorders may render central circuits unable to compensate for the normal perturbations induced by development and learning.
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