From synapses to memory: An India-EMBO symposium - IndiaBioscience

The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance and the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) jointly facilitated the India-EMBO Symposium recently held at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Manesar. The symposium spanned across four days (15 - 18 October) and witnessed the coming together of luminaries in the field of molecular neuroscience, both national and international. The thrust of the meeting was memory formation and dysfunction, with a strong focus on RNA-based mechanisms that regulate memory at the molecular level.

The event commenced with a keynote lecture by Thomas Carew, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Science at the Centre for Neural Science, New York University. Engaging one and all with his idiosyncratic style of delivering science, he urged the audience to think out loud with him as he discussed the molecular architecture of long-term memory formation in an extensively studied invertebrate system, sea slugs (Aplysia).

The role of non-coding and micro RNAs has emerged as a contemporary theme in understanding the mechanisms of memory, displacing earlier notions that these RNAs are merely products of spurious translation and do not serve a direct purpose in the cell since they are not translated to proteins. The meeting took an interdisciplinary approach, and was conducted across various segments with themes ranging from non-coding RNAs in nerve regeneration to novel methodologies for RNA detection.

Both young as well as established scientists from India put forth their findings in the international circuit through the symposium. Young PhD scholars and post-doctoral fellows presented their work through short talks and poster presentations, which gave them an opportunity to strike a dialogue with people from the field and receive feedback about their research findings. According to Sumantra Chattarji from the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, the meeting has been one of a kind in India. He addressed the gathering with the latest research from his laboratory on the modulation of specific as well as indiscriminate fear in rat models by the activation of a common receptor in amygdala, the fear centre of the brain.

The chief organiser of the symposium, Sourav Bannerjee (NBRC), highlighted the importance of the meeting in forming a global nexus of scientists and discussing the latest tools that have evolved in the last 20 years of the development of the field . “Some techniques have revolutionised how we study newly synthesised proteins,” he said, pointing out that Erin Schumann, (Director, Max Plank Institute for Brain Research), the discoverer of two such important techniques - FUNCAT and BONCAT, was present at the meeting. “This gave a unique opportunity for the participants to be motivated by the pertinent questions in the field of synaptic regulation of memory,” he added.

Esther Schnapp, senior scientific editor at EMBO reports, brought forth issues of scientific writing and publishing through an evening platform discussion. She elaborated on the ecosystem of research assessment at EMBO, and the importance of transparent reviews and minimally processed source data in maintaining standards of a quality journal. Bela Desai, Grants Adviser at the Wellcome trust/ DBT India Alliance, stressed on the importance of asking good research questions and maintaining consistencies in the budget proposed for a successful grant application.

The meeting was also supplemented by an informal discussion on managing one’s scientific career, mediated by Erin Schumann (Max Plank Institute for Brain Research, Germany), Thomas Carew (New York University (NYU), USA), Giovanna Mallucci (University of Cambridge, UK), Ted Abel (University of Iowa, USA), Eric Klann (NYU,USA) and Esther Schnapp (EMBO Press, Germany). From a medical doctor heading the UK Dementia research program to a scientific editor making publishing decisions for EMBO reports, the panel was an eclectic mix that offered a wide range of opinions for young researchers about conducting research rewardingly while maintaining a work-life balance.

The proceedings of this meeting will be published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. The next EMBO workshop will be held at NCBS from 4th to 7th February 2019, titled “Molecular Neuroscience: From genes to circuits in health and disease.”

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The EMBO meeting was rich as an overall experience, with inputs from a large number of scientists on various aspects of memory in both health and disease.

Amitabh Majumdar from NCCS, Pune, offered a fresh perspective on how we understand Huntington’s disease. He argued that translation, a cellular process of converting RNA to proteins, has a major role in Huntington protein’s misfolding and subsequent toxicity. The translation factor they study in this regard is Orb2.

Ravi Muddashetty from InStem, Bangalore brought across his lab’s focus on Fragile X Syndrome, a condition that falls in the Autism Spectrum Disorder. He highlighted that FMRP, the major protein associated with Fragile X syndrome, also has a function in the nucleus, besides its well known effects at the synapse. The lab reports a novel interaction of FMRP in the nucleus, which helps it regulate ribosomal RNA selectively.

Ted Abel, who actively co-organized the EMBO symposium with Sourav Bannerjee, delivered a keynote lecture on the impact of sleep deprivation on memory storage at the cellular and molecular level, as reflected in levels of cellular messengers called cAMP and microstructural changes in neurons.
Ted conducted a rather lively scientific discussion, and took an interesting dig on graduate students depriving themselves of sleep to study memory deficits brought about by lack of sleep!