See full interviews with Cornelia Bargmann, Winfried Denk, and Ann Graybiel in Nature Reviews Neuroscience (October 2012).
Cornelia Bargmann (Rockefeller University)
We’re asking whether there might be a logic underlying the incredible diversity of animal behaviours, perhaps at the level of genes and circuits. For example, are there conserved biological systems that organize higher-order behaviours, by analogy to the biological conservation that applies to molecular and cellular processes? Do internal states or emotions like hunger, fear or arousal have a straightforward biological basis in neuroanatomy and neurochemistry, or are they the result of ad hoc assemblies of multiple components? How do new behaviours evolve? Are there certain genes and mechanisms that are predisposed to generate new behavioural variations and, if so, how do they work?
Winfried Denk (Max Planck Institute for Medical Research)
Again, my interest lies in the development of tools that I perceive as being useful for a whole range of questions in neurobiology. Knowing the wiring diagram is ultimately necessary, although not necessarily sufficient, for all of systems (circuit?) neuroscience. More specifically, there are things to finish in the retina, and my laboratory is currently working to finish an inner-plexiform connectome. Then it’s on towards developing a whole-mouse-brain microtome.
Ann Graybiel (MIT)
Thanks to the ingenuity of people inventing new methods for working on the brain, we are in the midst of a revolution in which we have the chance to discover functional circuits in the brain and how they relate to behaviour, and to examine the dynamics of neural signalling at different time scales and in different frequency domains. In the field of basal ganglia research, we are just at the beginning of this adventure; for us, understanding the interactions of these deep-forebrain systems with the neocortex and with other functional systems is a primary goal. There are also many questions about the relationship between neural signalling and behaviour, not the least being the state changes that somehow occur between our doing things with conscious intent and doing things nearly automatically. Of course, in our specific workspace, we would like to understand the compartmental architecture of the striatum in functional terms. We have been guessing for a long time!