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July 27, 2004

Link Between Behavior and Brain Structure To Be Discussed at MBL Lang Lecture August 6

WOODS HOLE, MA—It is common sense to say that the brain controls behavior, but is the opposite true? Can behavior also ‘control’ the brain? Stanford University scientist Russell Dawson Fernald will discuss current research on the influence of behavior on brain structure and function on Friday, August 6 at 8:00 PM in the MBL’s Lillie Auditorium, 7 MBL Street in Woods Hole. The lecture, entitled “The Influence of Behavior on Brain Structure and Function,” is free and open to the public.

It is known that in evolution, selective ecological pressures have shaped the sensory and motor capacities as well as behavior and the body. It is also known that during development, behavior acts in concert with the environment to cause structural changes in the brain lasting a lifetime. What modern brain research has found, surprisingly, is that social behavior can also cause ‘real-time’ changes in the brains of some adult animals. Changes caused by behavioral interactions can be dramatic, and in many instances are related to reproductive behavior. To analyze such changes isn’t easy; it requires a model system where the social environment can be controlled while allowing access to physiological, cellular, and molecular processes being regulated.

Dr. Fernald will describe how social influences on the brain are studied, asking the provocative question: How does social information effect change in the brain and body? Animals must attend to the social scene to identify their chances. Learning how social information is transduced into cellular changes should help us understand how this happens in other social animals.

Russell Dawson Fernald is the Benjamin Scott Crocker Professor of Human Biology and a professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University, and served as the Director of the Human Biology Program there from 1996 to 2003. Dr. Fernald received his B.S. from Swarthmore College in 1963 and his Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. He completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship in Neurophysiology at Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry in Munich in 1971, and was a scientist at the Max-Planck-Institute for Behavioral Physiology until 1976. Dr. Fernald was an NIH Fogarty Research Scientist with the Medical Research Council for Cell Biophysics in London from 1984 to 1985 and has held various professorships, including positions at the University of Oregon (where he was the Director of the Institute of Neuroscience from 1986 to 1990), the University of Colorado Medical School, and the University of California at San Francisco. He was also an instructor in the MBL’s Neural Systems and Behavior Course from 1987 to 1990. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, an AAAS Fellowship, the Rank Prize in Vision/Opto-electronics, and several Stanford University teaching awards.

The annual Lang Lecture is held in memory of Dr. Fred Lang, a neurobiologist with the Boston University Marine Program at the MBL who was killed tragically in an automobile accident in December 1978.

The Marine Biological Laboratory is an internationally known, independent, nonprofit research and educational institution. It conducts the highest level of original research and education in biology, including the biomedical and environmental sciences. MBL hosts research programs in cell and developmental biology, ecosystems studies, molecular biology and evolution, neurobiology, behavior, global infectious diseases and sensory physiology. Its intensive graduate-level educational program is renowned throughout the life sciences. Founded in 1888, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the western hemisphere.