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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Casting Light on the Brain

Published: 29 May 2015

Neuroscience students and researchers from Biological Sciences, Medicine, Engineering and other departments across campus packed out the mini-conference ‘Illuminating Neuroscience’ that focused on the contribution of light-based technology to understanding the brain. This was the second annual Spring Event of the Southampton Neuroscience Group (SoNG).

“Of course, light is very important to image the nervous system but the relatively new method of optogenetics has allowed light to be used as a non-invasive way of selectively stimulating nerve cells,” explains Dr Herman Wijnen, organiser of the event. “This is one of the cutting-edge tools that we use in the Southampton Neuroscience community to discover how the nervous system functions.”

Two high-profile plenary speakers gave presentations that nicely complemented each other on mulitple levels. Firstly, Professor Gero Miesenböck from the University of Oxford gave a compelling seminar describing the development of optogenetics followed by Dr Michael Hastings from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge who illustrated how light-based reporter assays can be used to track molecular signals in living brain slices. Moreover, while Professor Miesenböck presented his lab’s recent discovery of a brain circuit that controls sleep, Dr Hastings explained how his research contributed to a better understanding of the centre for daily timekeeping in our brain.

The plenary session was followed by a well-attended poster session where local postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers presented their work to the speakers and the Southampton Neuroscience community.

The 13th annual SonG symposium will be held at Southampton in September. The event ‘Translational Neuroscience for Mental Health’ will showcase animal and human neuroscience research across the behavioural, cognitive and affective brain sciences that play a key role in identifying new treatment targets and interventions to improve mental health. Leading academics Professor Angela Roberts (University of Cambridge), who studies the neural basis of emotional and cognitive behaviour, and Professor Michael Owen (Cardiff University Medical School), who researches genetic defects that contribute to psychiatric and neurodegenerative disease, will be the speakers.

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