Columbia University Convenes Top Scientists To Discuss 'Brain And Mind'

Far-ranging symposium will feature leading neuroscientists, including two Nobel laureates

NEW YORK, N.Y. – May 12, 2004 – As part of the celebration of its 250th anniversary, Columbia University will bring together some of the world’s most eminent authorities in neuroscience for "Brain and Mind," a unique and far-ranging symposium that will take a comprehensive look at what is widely considered the most fascinating structure in the world—the human brain. Among the speakers are two Nobel laureates, including Columbia University Medical Center’s Eric Kandel, M.D., and Rockefeller University’s Roderick McKinnon, M.D. Former head of NIH's National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Dr. Gerald Fischbach, who is Dean of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, will open the day-and-a half symposium, which will be held May 13 and 14 at the Roone Arledge Auditorium, Lerner Hall, 114th and Broadway.

Leading scholars will confront some of the enduring mysteries regarding the biology of mental functioning: How does signaling activity in different regions of the visual system permit us to perceive discrete objects in the visual world? How do we recognize a face? How do we reconstruct that face at will, in our imagination, at a later time and in the absence of ongoing visual input? What are the biological underpinnings of our decision-making?

“Neural scientists usually take one of two approaches to the complex problem of understanding the brain and mind,” says Thomas Jessell, Ph..D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, Columbia University Medical Center. “The molecular, or bottom-up, model analyzes the nervous system in terms of its elementary components, by examining one molecule, cell, or circuit at a time. The cognitive, or top-down, model starts with what we can observe about human behavior and attempts to find reasons for the behavior in complex patterns of neuronal activity.” The symposium will explore what we’ve learned from these two approaches, what we still don’t understand, and how bridging the gap between the two methods may lead to an understanding of how operations carried out by the brain constitute what we refer to as our mind.

Following opening remarks by Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, world-class faculty will address specific areas of neuroscience during three thematic, half-day sessions. Presenters will lookfirst at what is known about cells and neural networks, then examine the research on perceptions and behaviors. “Brain Structure,” on Thursday morning, May 13th, will cover such diverse topics as the molecular basis of perception and the storage and persistence of memory.

In the afternoon, “Brain Function and Disease” will offer additional presentations on brain development; neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and the role of the brain in drug addiction. Every year, over 50 million adults - at least 22 percent of the U.S. adult population - suffer from diagnosable brain disorders or diseases such as Alzheimer's, stroke, and schizophrenia.

The Friday morning session, “Biology of Mind,” will include presentations on how brain imaging has revealed regions with surprisingly specific functions, such as the recognition of faces, places, and bodies; how the brain weighs the "value" of alternative choices before rendering a decision; and the neuronal basis of consciousness.

In addition to leading Columbia faculty in the field of neuroscience, other speakers presenting at the symposium are from the National Institutes of Health, Stanford University School of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, King’s College of London, University of California at Berkeley, California Institute of Technology, Rockefeller University and Baylor College of Medicine. A complete schedule and presentation abstracts can be found at

“Brain and Mind” is organized by Dr. Jessell and Joanna Rubinstein, Ph.D., senior associate dean for institutional and global initiatives at Columbia University Medical Center.

For more on Brain and Mind call Annie Bayne, (212) 305 3900, or visit


*Columbia 250 is a celebration of the people and ideas associated with Columbia who have shaped the world and the way we see it. Columbia researchers have historically played a key role in neuroscience, from the 1930s when Columbia researchers K.C. Cole and Howard Curtis discovered how electrical signals are conducted in neurons, to the year 2000, when Eric Kandel was honored with a Nobel Prize for his discoveries about how learning changes the brain’s wiring. Columbia continues to push the neuroscience knowledge-envelope today with groundbreaking research by such scientists as Dr. Kandel, who has found that prions, notorious for causing mad cow disease, may be surprisingly critical to long-term memory retention. After years of work on spinal cord development, Dr. Jessell’s lab has created motor neurons from embryonic stem cells. Dr. Richard Mayeux is leading a nationwide effort to find families in which more than one member has Alzheimer’s Disease, in order to pinpoint more genes that increase the risk of the disease.

Located in New York City, Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic and clinical research, medical education, and health care. The medical center includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, and other health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the School of Dental & Oral Surgery, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. The pioneering tradition of Columbia University health scientists, who have achieved some of the 20th century's most significant medical breakthroughs, continues today.


Annie Bayne, Columbia University, Eric Kandel, Rockefeller University