For anyone who has never been, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories organize some really great conferences. The axon guidance, synaptic plasticity and regeneration conference, formerly the axon guidance synaptogenesis and plasticity conference, is biannually held in September and other than occasional heavy showers you can expect some fabulous weather. The campus, with the harbor that runs alongside it, is very beautiful especially with the first hint of autumn colour.
This year axon guidance and regeneration seemed to predominate over synaptic plasticity. The first day started with an evening session and whilst the jetlag can be a problem one of the other great things about these conferences is ‘The Leading Strand’, a password protected website that allows meeting participants to re-watch talks for a limited period of time after the conference. Sadly, but perhaps understandably, this appears to be becoming less and not more popular. Perhaps people feel that it’s unnecessary since there are no parallel sessions that force you to miss something.
The first session opened with some of our favourite axon guidance molecules Slit, Robo, Ephs and Ephrins. Adam Guy from the Neuronal Growth Mechanisms Lab, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, got the dubious honour of closing the session with a late night talk showing chemorepulsion of sensory axons in the chick spinal cord by a phospholipid, suggesting a specific axon guidance role and possibly a novel group of guidance molecules.
Wednesday opened with one of the few sessions that focused on synapses and circuits. This included a very interesting talk by Nicola Allen on an astrocyte secreted factor that can induce synapse formation in vitro. Nicola went on to describe the biochemical identification of the molecule and to show that hippocampal slice cultures from the knockout mouse do have an electrophysiological phenotype. The day finished with a plenary lecture which by Peter Devreotes on chemotaxis in which he sort to bring together the many different strands of research and show how they might fit together. It was a fascinating but rapid overview of the topic and there is clearly still much left to understand.
Thursday was easily the busiest day of the conference with talks until 3.30pm, a poster session until 5.30pm and then an evening session of talks from 7.30pm. You certainly get your money’s worth of science at Cold Spring Harbor!
Friday began with the second session on stem cells, regeneration and disease. In vivo laser axotomy appears to be the tool of choice for investigating regeneration at the moment and in combination with zebrafish and C.elegans, models which are so amenable to manipulation and live imaging, will certainly yield much useful and interesting data. After lunch we were treated to two more plenary lectures, the first given by Tom Jessell on ‘The nerves and networks of spinal motor control’ and the second by Eva Marder on ‘Compensation in robust network performance’, both were truly captivating and quite humbling.
The conference dinner on Friday evening was preceded by a very impressive performance by the up and coming violinist Hahn-Bin. After such a cultured beginning it was all downhill from then on…the less said about the drunken dancing the better!