The last decades in Neuroscience have seen major progress in the cellular and molecular understanding of the nervous system and major advances in our understanding of the molecular and genetic determination of building neuronal pathways. We are achieving a mechanistic understanding of synaptic transmission and its plasticity, and molecular genetic techniques have provided a powerful paradigm in species such as C. elegans, Drosophila, zebrafish and mice, to genetically engineer animals with predictable changes in their behavior, after altering sometimes a single base pair in their genomes. At the same time, looking ahead, we strongly feel that these mostly reductionistic approaches are still culprits of treating the nervous system as a "black box" that generates behavior. The essential workings of neural circuits are ignored. The jump "from molecules to behavior" often ignores the intermediate steps, which not only are necessary to understand in this long series of causal links, but, moreover, could conceivably be the key level where the function of the nervous system is actually organized.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that Neuroscience historically has focused on understanding the nervous system using the individual neuron as its focus of analysis, by using techniques that characterize the response of one neuron at a time. At the same time, most nervous systems are composed of enormous numbers of neurons and connections. In spite of more than a hundred years of Neuroanatomy, these gigantic connectivity matrixes are still largely unexplored, and the general rules by which these complex circuits operate are practically unknown. This set of questions, which one could call "the circuit problem", is a major challenge in modern Neuroscience. Moreover, it is even possible that, in analogy to the Crick-Watson model of DNA, or the Hodgkin and Huxley model of the action potential, there could be a relatively simple solution to a large variety of computational problems that the Nervous System solves. The circuit problem could have a simple answer.
This conference is focused on the function of neural circuits, defined as the mechanisms by which assemblies of neurons generate perception, neural states and behavior. Sessions focus on multidisciplinary analysis to different neural circuits, including retina, olfactory system, hippocampus, striatum and neocortex, and covering species ranging from c. elegans to humans. The common thread is the study of the computational strategies use by these different circuits. The strength of the conference lies in its comparative aspect, since it is likely that evolution has conserved similar strategies for processing information and generating mental states and behavior. Modern Neuroscience encompasses research in tremendous breadth of scales, from the function of channels, to psychophysical or ethological analysis of behavior. While there are conferences that cover each of these levels, this GRC spans many levels and systems, focusing on the analysis of circuits.
What is a GRC? Gordon Research Conferences (GRC) are 5-day meetings that bring scientists together from around the world to present and discuss unpublished research with other leaders in their field.