Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology

Overview

Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology - Overview

Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology


The principal objective of the Center is to develop a firm theoretical infrastructure for modern experimental neurobiology. We expect to accomplish this goal by promoting the application of theoretical concepts and techniques, drawn from the physical sciences, to a wide range of problems in neurobiology.

Our areas of study span a wide range of critical levels of analysis, including molecular characterization of ion channels, synaptic transmission and plasticity, developmental events in circuit formation, characterization of the properties of cortical neurons, and the relationship of the latter to sensory, perceptual and cognitive experience.

Theoretical Foundations for Modern Neurobiology

In 1994, with major financial support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies established a Center for Theoretical Neurobiology. The principal objective of the Center is to develop a frim theoretical infrastructure for modern experimental neurobiology. We expect to accomplish this goal by applying theoretical concepts and techniques, drawn from the physical sciences, to a wider range of problems in neurobiology. Our Center sponsors a training program so that individuals with expertise in the physical sciences, mathematics. Our Center also seeks to educate conventionally-trained neurobiologists of modern theoretical tools. The Swartz Foundation continues to fund research in the Center as well as a seminar series and visitors program.

The Salk Institute houses several research programs that are on the forefront of modern experimental neurobiology. The common goal of these programs is to improve understanding of the organization and function of the nervous system. Our areas of study span a wide range of critical levels of analysis, including molecular characterization of ion channels, synaptic transmission and plasticity, developmental events in circuit formation, characterization of the properties of cortical neurons, and the relationship of the latter to sensory, perceptual, and cognitive experience. Our discoveries have led important insights into the brain processes responsible for learning, memory, visual perception, motor control and language, as well as an understanding of the genetic and environmental factors that influence brain development and plasticity.

As in any established science, experimental work is but one path along the road to understanding neurobiology also depends heavily upon the development of the theories that can be used to interpret results and guide new experiments. Due to the complexity of the nervous system and the youthfulness of the endeavor, however, the field of neurobiology currently lacks theoretical tools and concepts on scale with the quality and quantity of available data. Strategies potentially useful in filling this gap may be drawn from the physical sciences, where it has long been possible to model physical systems that have structural, behavioral, or functional similarities to neurobiological systems. The mandate of the Center for Theoretical Neurobiology is to encourage the exploitation and development of such strategies in the novel context of neurobiology.