NIH Neuroscience Seminar- March 23, 2015

Larry Abbott

Larry Abbott


TITLE: Learning to Predict: Studies of Neural Circuits in Fish and Flies

AUTHOR: Larry Abbott, Ph.D., Columbia University

TIME: , 12:00:00 PM  DATE: Monday, March 23, 2015

PLACE: Porter Neuroscience Research Center

HOST: Bruno Averbeck


Reacting properly to sensory inputs and knowing the potential consequences of an action is crucial to survival. An animal needs to know what sights, sounds and smells lead to a dangerous or advantageous situation, and how their actions will impact the likelihood of receiving an award, or put them in a perilous situation.

In his lecture, Abbott will discuss research into two neural circuits: one that allows flies to interpret the implications of different odors, and another that predicts the consequences of motor actions in an electric fish. This research provides key insights into understanding how the brain computes and allows for the construction of predictive models of brain function.

Abbott received his Ph.D. in physics at Brandeis University in 1977 and spent 10 years working in theoretical particle physics. His research in neuroscience involves the mathematical modeling and analysis of neurons and neural networks using analytic techniques and computer simulations to show how populations of neurons interact to produce functional circuits with the goal of determining the mechanisms by which networks of neurons represent, store and process information. Abbott is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and is the co-author of a widely used textbook on theoretical neuroscience.


Center for Theoretical Neuroscience website

My research involves the computational modeling and mathematical analysis of neurons and neural networks. Analytic techniques and computer simulation are used to study how single neurons respond to their many synaptic inputs, how neurons interact to produce functioning neural circuits, and how large populations of neurons represent, store, and process information. Areas of particular interest include spike-timing dependent forms of synaptic plasticity, the roles of neuronal adaptation and synaptic modification taking place over multiple time scales in sensory processing and memory, and the dynamics of internally generated activity and signal propagation in large neural networks.

Long-term changes in synaptic strength can depend on the relative timing of pre- and postsynaptic action potentials, with important functional implications. Spike-timing-dependent synaptic plasticity (STDP) can generate a balance of excitation and inhibition, support the learning of temporal sequences, enhance responses to temporally correlated inputs, and equalize synaptic efficacies over complex dendrites. STDP is just one of many forms of synaptic plasticity that act over a wide range of timescales. We have shown that having multiple timescales of plasticity is critical for enhancing memory capacity and protecting memories from “over-writing”. We continue to explore the implications of multi-timescale adaptation and plasticity for sensory processing and learning.

About the Seminars

NIH Neuroscience Seminar Series website

The NIH Neuroscience Seminar Series features lectures and discussions with leading neuroscientists. Sponsored by NINDS, NIMH, NIA, NIDCD, NIDA, NICHD, NEI, NIAAA,NIDCR, NHGRI and NCCIH, this year’s series offers seminars on aspects of molecular, cellular, developmental and cognitive neuroscience as well as neuroscience related topics in disease, pain and genetics. Seminars are held on the NIH campus on Mondays at noon in the Porter Neuroscience Research Center, Room 620/630, Building 35 and may be viewed live via NIH VideoCasting.

For additional information about the series contact Peggy Rollins (phone: 301-435-2232, To arrange to meet with an invited speaker, contact the host for that speaker (see seminar schedule for hosts).

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