SfN 2012 – Highs, Lows, & Beignets

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the 42nd Annual Meeting for the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) in New Orleans.  For a quick frame of reference, imagine over 28,000 lovers of brain science toting 3 x 5 posters  and joining together for one of the largest academic conferences in the world.  From the staggeringly enormous poster hall extending from row A to row FFF to the sheer volume of information being shared in various special lectures, symposia, minisymposia, and (oh yes) nanosymposia, this meeting is surely a handful and, most definitely, a wonderful head-ful.

This was my second time to attend the meeting, making my experience infinitely more enjoyable.  Not to mention, this year’s Neuroscience 2012 App was super helpful for the iProduct obsessed #guilty.  Last year’s experience was so overwhelming I couldn’t even muster up a blog post to recount the meeting.  This time, I’ve at least managed to retain enough information to share about some brief highs, lows, and my newfound love for Beignets.

Highs:  

I was able to check out several posters relevant to our work in lab.  For instance, one group from Medical University of South Carolina presented work on graph theoretical analysis of resting state fMRI data in autism.  Sound familiar?  Interestingly, they found that individuals with autism  displayed less long-range connections forming in brain networks from childhood to adulthood, further supporting the functional underconnectivity hypothesis in autism.  Our whole lab was also intrigued by work from Tracy Bale’s group at Penn showing that early life and adolescent paternal stress can lead to stress pathway dysregulation in offspring in mice.   This finding adds a twist to the already complex picture of maternal stress in autism.

Another high was having the work our lab presented featured on the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative website: http://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/conference-news/2012/society-for-neuroscience-2012/anxiety-drug-enhances-brain-connections-in-autism. Talk about making my day.

I also got to attend several lectures at the meeting.  During her talk, Amy Arnsten of Yale discussed how chronic and acute stress can cause both structural and functional changes  in the prefrontal cortex (our decision making/judgment call part of the brain), effectively taking it “offline” during stress exposure.   Barbara Sahakian of Cambridge gave a lecture on the ethics of so-called “smart drugs.”  Most strikingly, she shared about the increasing off-label use of stimulants, such as the anti-narcolepsy drug modafinil, to improve cognitive performance.   She even showed how easy (and illegal) it is to purchase these prescription drugs online.

Lows:  I’m sure that by now most people have heard of and been baffled by the University of Chicago professor’s Facebook blunder.  I don’t need to justify this man’s misstep with a rant about women in science, etc.  Just know that if there was a “low” from SfN 2012 (or for society at large) this one definitely makes the cut.

Beignets:  How can I describe the powdery fried goodness that was my first taste of a beignet from Cafe Du Monde?  Let’s just say that my powdered sugar moustache was worn proudly and that I may have come home with some mix for my husband.