The Annual Brain Blitz
Research Models
Regina Kelder

The Annual Brain Blitz

The Society for Neuroscience meeting kicks off in D.C.

Attending the annual Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting presents a fabulous opportunity to feed (feast, really) on the latest science, and network with colleagues and clients. But the sheer size of the event, which is being held this year at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C., is also physically and mentally exhausting: Over 30,000 scientists, 15,000 abstracts, 50 symposia, 100 satellite events and 600 exhibitions, all packed into five days.

So you have to really clamp down and focus. I couldn't help noticing all the Twitter activity surrounding an SfN workshop on the neuroscience of gaming, especially after getting briefly caught up with the commercial brain game Lumosity. (The Institute of Medicine is organizing the Nov. 16 session if you are interested.)

We, here, at Eureka will be staying focused on the preclinical side, and in particular updates on some of the different ways scientists are approaching the study of neurodegenerative diseases in animals. Two symposia, in particular, will be sharing ways of enhancing the reproducibility of neuroscience studies and ideas on how to improve the research models used to study psychiatric disorders.

It's no secret that translating diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) from mice to men is difficult, and that diagnosing these diseases during the earliest stages suffers from a dearth of reliable tools.

To get around some of these longstanding problems, our Finland-based scientists have been employing a kind of motion-capture computer-generated imagery to detect subtle phenotypic changes with earlier and more sensitive detection compared to traditional movement analysis. Their earliest studies of fine motor kinematic analysis, which Eureka blogged about here and here, began in rodents that model certain aspects of Huntington's disease, but the work has now been expanded to include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—the subject of a poster presentation at SfN—stroke, traumatic brain injury and, most recently, neuropathic pain, says Antti Nurmi, Director of Science, Operations at the Finnish site.

The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to monitor the brain responses to drug compounds—otherwise known as pharmacological MRI—is also expanding in the preclinical study of psychiatric drugs. MRIs are widely used for in vivo profiling of drug candidates being tested in animal models, but applying this tool to assess the effects of the study drug on brain function is still very challenging, in part because many commercial labs do not have the equipment or expertise to conduct the tests. So we're eager to hear what a quartet of neuroscientists have to say about some of the creative ways the field is using this tool in preclinical in vivo modeling. The Charles River luncheon panel includes Fuqiang Zhao, head of Neuroimaging at Merck; Thomas Mueggler, head of MRI at Roche; Olli Gröhn, head of Biological Nuclear Magnetic Resonance at the University of Eastern Finland; and Jin Lee, who heads an Imaging Research Group at Stanford.

As has been the case in previous years, this SfN meeting contains featured lectures and abstracts that reflect the growing desire to understand how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact and function. The SfN meeting will also be featuring compelling data from various studies linking a disordered gut with different mental health disorders. There has been a lot of attention paid by the scientific literature and the science press lately to the gut microbiome, including recent Eureka blogs here and here. But the neurological connection is a somewhat newer angle. Nature offered a good update this week on some of the microbiome studies that will be presented at SfN, including one that examined the microbial environments of mice that model some features of autism, and another that found mice born vaginally harbor different microbes than those born by Cesarean.

Last year's gathering in San Diego also highlighted some exciting developments in stem cell research, including work by University of California-San Francisco researchers that suggested induced pluripotent stem cells could spontaneously correct certain genetic defects. With that said, stem cells don't appear to be one of the major themes this year. "It's a shame, as I'd like to see a lot more on stem cells and their roles in disease and regeneration of neural networks," says Omar Aziz, a UK-based team leader in Charles River's Discovery Research Services. "I just don't think we're there yet."

Once the meeting is underway, we'll be blogging about developments in Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and, more broadly, neuroimaging. You can find us by logging on to our site,, or following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We also encourage you to tune into the SfN's 10 designated science bloggers. Here's a link to the bloggers and their areas of interest.

And if you are interested in learning more about what Charles River scientists are presenting this year at SfN, log on to and download the conference guide.

See ya at SfN.