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Terry Sejnowski: 2011 Allen Institute for Brain Science Symposium

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Uploaded on Oct 7, 2011

Terry Sejnowski, Salk Institute; University of California, San Diego; Howard Hughes Medical Institute "A new view of the neuropil"

Dr. Sejnowski took us on a computer animated tour of the hippocampus, reconstructing a small cube, measuring micrometers on a side, of intra- and extra-cellular space at a resolution of 4nm. Zooming in so closely on synapses of the neuropil -- the space between neuronal cell bodies where axons and dendrites come together -- led to a marveling at the effectiveness of synapses. Great detailed analysis can be performed at this level of magnitude, and Dr. Sejnowski pointed out just a few important observations. Extracellular space is not uniform. The spines and heads of dendrites have enormous space and size variation, and post-synaptic density is directly and linearly related to spiny head volume. What this means is an open question in neuroscience.

Dr. Sejnowski pointed to the remarkable coincidences in the common issues in his own work with those of Clay Reid and Idan Segev, the two speakers directly before him, and suggested the possibility that synchronous arrival of multiple electrical synapses is used as a prioritization technique for information arriving in the cortex. That is, as Dr. Sejnowski put it, "when you have a signal that's really important you use multiple synapses to get that signal across."

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