Organizing cells into networks

Doctor Thomas Insel discusses difficulties in understanding how cells become organized to the form networks that allow information to flow within a nervous system.

Let’s look at where we are, really, in terms of understanding, and if you think about it there are few areas where we’ve really made great progress in being able to cross these levels. One of them I think is in Circadian Rhythms, where we’ve got great molecular and cellular kinds of models and we understand quite a bit about the behavior. Increasingly we can do that in some reproductive behaviors and most recently in some social behaviors, and it’s very interesting that we’re able to make progress there. The problem in all of these regions of understanding is that we do hit a barrier, and the barrier is not so much in going from molecules to cells because we’ve got great tools for that now. It’s going from cells to systems; we don’t really understand how cells become organized in such a way to form networks and to allow information to flow within a nervous system. I think if you were trying to characterize what would be the big challenge of the next 5 to 10 years, certainly one of those would be going from genes to function or genes to biology, but another huge one will be the way in which we get from a cellular understanding to an understanding at the level of systems, and we don’t have the kinds of tools to make that jump yet that we have, for instance, to go from molecules to cells or even from systems to the behavioral phenotype of an organism.

cells, biology, social behaviors, molecules, genes, thomas insel

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