July 19 Charles Stevens Public Lecture

Maps of and in the Brain

Paepcke Auditorium
6:00 pm

Speaker: Charles F. Stevens, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The work in Professor Stevens' Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory centers on mechanisms responsible for synaptic transmission. These problems are approached by a combination of molecular biological, electrophysiological, anatomical, and theoretical methods. The lab members study neurons both in dissociated cell culture and in brain slices, and also investigate the function of individual membrane proteins of importance for synaptic transmission. One main current research focus is the various mechanisms used by the central nervous system for the short- and long-term regulation of synaptic strength. A second principal project uses a combination of methods to elucidate the molecular basis to neurotransmitter release at synapses.


The human brain is, famously, the most complex object known. Despite this enormous complexity, all human brains have a common design. Not only that, but all mammals (mice, dogs, whales and us) share much of this same design. And for some parts of the brain, like the region that deals with the sense of smell, the design is the same for all animals with a backbone -- from fish, frogs, alligators, snakes, and birds to us. Although many features of brain design are too complicated to be described within an hour, some of the most important ideas about how the brain is organized are basically simple and can be quickly grasped. I plan to describe some of these easily grasped design features that range from ones learned a hundred years ago to new principles that are based on recent advances in physics, mathematics, and computer science.