February 2011 Newsletter:

Conference Reports

ENDO 2010, 19th - 22nd June 2010, San Diego, CA, USA

This year's ENDO meeting was excellent as always. While I did not feel there was any one important groundbreaking new revelation being talked about, there were many high quality sessions providing excellent overviews and updates.

The plenary lectures were varied and of a high quality. The current format of two lectures within an hour's slot as opposed to the traditional one hour lecture allows an overview within a comfortable time span for those in the audience not familiar with the field, while allowing the opportunity for more presenters. "Sex Battles in the Brain" by Catherine Dulac from Harvard was a particular highlight for me. This was an absolutely fascinating lecture, clearly delivered on a neuroendocrine topic I was previously unfamiliar with.

As this was an endocrine rather than a neuroendocrine meeting, the plenary lectures covered diverse topics and "Beta Cell Replacement for Diabetes: Fact and Fancy" (Griffin Rodgers) was also excellent; a fascinating and useful overview of where we are with this and where the future lies. Possibly the most bizarre plenary lecture I have ever attended was delivered by G Cunha, "Development of External Genitalia: New Insights derived from the Spotted Hyena and the Mouse". I'll leave the rest to your imagination (and it won't even come close).

I was particularly impressed with the new (to me, I was not there last year) 'A Year In….' sessions. Each speaker approached this remit differently but they were all great. David Mangelsdorf's "A Year in Steroid Receptors" was light hearted and a good update on the important discoveries in the field at the same time. "The Year in Circadian Rhythms" was also interesting.

From the symposia, "FGF-21: a novel regulator of glucose and lipid metabolism" was a highlight for me. I had not heard of this factor before (maybe I should) and it was a great session directly related to my work. "The flame and the Brain - Hypothalamic Inflammation and Obesity" was a session that generated some lively discussion (!).

A slight disappointment for me was the lack of CRF/urocortin neuroendocrinology presented (although there was a symposia session at the end on CRF and initiation of labour), but this does not relate to the quality of the meeting as a whole, which did have significant neuroendocrine content.

Lastly, the new ENDO Expo format designed to encourage delegates into the exhibitors hall seemed to be working well - I enjoyed it anyway and look forward to ENDO next year.

Pauline Jamieson

Society for Research on Biological Rhythms Meeting, May 2010, Sandestin, Florida

With the imminent prospect of local beaches becoming engulfed by oil already having an impact on tourism, the 500 plus delegates of the SRBR meeting would have been a welcome sight. Over the course of four days, 15 symposia covered topics from fundamental components of the circadian clocks, clocks in health and disease, metabolism, rhythms in space and altered gravity and seasonal rhythms. The meeting focussed largely on circadian clocks and rhythms with a much smaller element on seasonal and reproductive rhythms, but nevertheless the relationship between the molecular components underlying the circadian rhythms and seasonal biology ensured seasonal biologists had the opportunity to gather a lot of useful information.

This was my first attendance at SRBR and these symposia emphasised the pervasiveness of circadian clocks and the need to take this into account from cellular responses to whole animal behaviour and physiology. Among the topics covered in this meeting, the role of circadian clocks in metabolism were of most interest to myself. This is a relativity new dimension for the molecular and cellular biologists in the clock field and this area is clearly important to those in the field of appetite and energy expenditure. Olfaction is one important component of the sensory system that is involved in appetite and work presented by Erik Herzog demonstrated circadian rhythms in the olfactory epithelium with responses in c-fos expression to odour stimulation dependent on the time of day odour is presented. Other presentations revealed the importance of clock component Bmal 1 to maintaining a lean phenotype with specific knockout of Bmal 1 in adipose tissue leading to greater adiposity. The circadian clock in the pancreas was highlighted as important to proper insulin exocytosis, islet size and function. The circadian regulation of PGC1α was highlighted as important to the regulation of metabolism through its principal involvement as a transcriptional co-regulator with ROR orphan receptor regulation of clock gene expression in the liver. AMP kinase, important to energy balance and food intake through its role as a cellular energy sensor, seems to be another link between circadian clocks and metabolism, with data implicating Cry 1 activity modulation through phosphorylation by AMPK. The melancortin system also gets in on the act with a presentation showing M3R knockout mice having altered entrainment to wakefulness, mealtime and food intake, altered cortical clock gene expression and potential for perturbation of glucose homeostasis by restricted feeding.

In addition to a wealth of oral presentations, there were several poster sessions which were all extremely well attended with active participation by all delegates, making this conference worthwhile if you are either an oral or poster presenter. Finally, a thank you to the BSN for financial support to enable me to attend this meeting.

Perry Barrett
University of Aberdeen

Society for Research on Biological Rhythms meeting, May 2010, Sandestin, Florida, USA

The Society for Research on Biological Rhythms (SRBR) meeting is the foremost scientific meeting for biological rhythms researchers worldwide, attracting around 600 scientists, physicians and mathematicians. Held every two years in Sandestin, Florida, research topics encapsulate a wide range of plant, insect, mammalian and bacterial species, alongside rapidly developing mathematical and computational models.

Three members of the lab attended the meeting (and another six from other chronobiology labs in Manchester). After a fairly uneventful 24 hour door-to-door journey, we arrived at the venue, a beach and golf resort about 1.5 hours drive east from Pensacola airport. The resort is somewhat reminiscent of the town in the Truman show; everything is very nice with a slight tint of unreality.

Symposia and slide sessions ran from 8:30 in the mornings, with a wide spread of topics to suit all interests. Following a period of free time in the afternoon, the conference restarted at 4:30 and more symposia and slide talks were followed by a poster session running until approximately 11pm each night. Free time was generally spent in air conditioned rooms as the midday temperatures were approaching 40°C (the local news informed us that we were in the hottest place in America that week, along with minute by minute updates about the approaching oil slick).

My poster was on the first full day of the conference, and the session was very well attended with much interest in the work. This is one of the advantages of the SRBR conferences – everybody there, if not an expert in your specific field, at least understands the concepts behind the work, although with people still queuing at 11pm to speak to me (5am UK time), my responses became a little less coherent.

With such a wide range of topics to choose from, it was often difficult to balance which of the parallel sessions to attend: the ones related to my work (peripheral circadian clocks, clocks and metabolism etc) or the ones that just caught your interest (rhythms in space or altered gravity anyone…?). There were a number of very interesting talks in the blossoming field of interactions between the circadian and immune systems, and a particularly exciting talk by Paolo Sassone-Corsi about epigenetic control of the molecular clock.

Above all, the conference provided the time and opportunity to chat informally with everyone, from the world experts to the new students in circadian biology enabling the exchange of new ideas and the formation of friendships.

I am extremely grateful to the BSN for their generous provision of an International Travel grant, which made it possible for me to attend, and would thoroughly recommend SRBR to any young chronobiologist who has the opportunity to go.

Clare Guilding

6th European Conference on Comparative Neurobiology (ECCN6), April 2010, Valencia, Spain

ECCN6 was held in the beautiful coastal city of Valencia, Spain in the Science Museum Príncipe Felipe at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a high tech, architectural marvel in the old riverbed of the now diverted Turia River. The meeting was a mix of evo-devo researchers, interested in understanding brain evolution by comparing patterns of gene and protein expression across the development of multiple species, and scientists interested in comprehending higher brain function by comparing behaviour, neuroanatomy, and physiology across varied taxa. Due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull, a number of speakers were not able to attend the meeting as planned. The organizers made a good show of it regardless, bringing in replacement speakers when necessary and re-organizing the order of the oral presentations to accommodate those delayed by the ash cloud.

My current research is related to two topics that were well covered at this meeting: avian social behaviour and the neuropeptide modulation of mammalian olfaction. I gave a talk about the seasonal regulation of steroid-related mRNAs in the male song sparrow, as they relate to the modulation of aggressive and reproductive behaviour. Later speakers, such as James Goodson from Indiana University, USA and Jacques Balthazart from the University of Liege, Belgium also spoke about the neuroanatomical underpinnings of avian social behaviour. Dr. Goodson's work on the neuropeptide modulation of social aggregation in wild songbirds was especially enlightening. Dominik Heyers from the University of Oldenburg, Germany gave a great talk about magnetoreception in migratory birds, a theme J. Martin Wild, from the University of Auckland,New Zealand, followed up on. Dr. Wild suggested, based on nerve dissection studies in homing pigeons, that avian migration might not only involved the sensing of magnetic fields, but also olfaction. After a few discussions with other conference attendees and a brief scan of the literature, it was apparent that, mechanistically at least, there is still a great deal to accomplish in the field of avian olfaction. Dr. Wild also discussed three decades of amazing work mapping many of the neural connections underlying a plethora of behaviours and physiology across multiple species of bird. In another talk about the remarkable cognitive capabilities of birds, Dr. Onür Güntürkün from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany showed incredible video footage of corvids in his laboratory showing self recognition in a mirror, something only a handful of mammals can accomplish.

Ivan Rodriguez, from the University of Geneva started the chemosensory talks with a very interesting presentation about vomeronasal receptors, including the recently described, apparently rodent-specific formyl peptide receptor (FPR). Bill Hansson, from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology ended this session with a refreshing ecological-based lecture on the evolution of insect olfaction. There were also a few posters involving olfaction, including a handful that discussed the vasopressinergic and serotonergic modulation of chemosensory signalling that were particularly informative.

All of the other presentations were excellent, with a few notable standouts. R. Glenn Northcutt's talk about the evolution of the telencephalon utilizing scant Coelacanth tissue collected off the coast of Africa was nothing short of inspiring, reminding me of why I got interested in biology in the first place. Dr. Chris Thompson ably stepped in for Constance Scharff, who was stranded in the United States, giving an excellent talk about Foxp2 in songbirds. Foxp2 is a gene suspected to be involved in neural plasticity underlying the evolution of human language.

All in all, the 6th European Conference on Comparative Neurobiology (ECCN6) was a resounding success on all levels. The organizer made us feel comfortable with fantastic food, a wonderful evening concert, and a list of presenters that kept us all captivated. I would suggest this conference to anyone interested in developmental biology or comparative neuroscience.

Douglas W. Wacker
University of Edinburgh

14th International Congress of Endocrinology, Kyoto

You must be pretty selective with your timetable when you go to large conferences, such as the International Congress of Endocrinology. For this particular meeting, the days kicked off early with plenary lectures and were followed immediately by parallel symposia. When mere mortals might try to grab food or a snooze, there were oral sessions, meet-the-professor sessions, lunchtime seminars and posters. I have to admit I did not have time to look at one poster all conference! That 'aint right. Further parallel symposia in the afternoons were followed by more late plenaries. So, how did I spend my time? Busy.

You have to accept that symposia are going to be of variable quality and that it is normally the ones in your field that are going to be the most disappointing – mostly because you’ve probably heard all the presentations before at the last international meeting. Happily, there are always exceptions, and the four symposium speakers in "Central regulation of energy homeostasis" did all talk on their most recent research. However, I gained most from the symposia slightly out of my comfort zone: "Peptidomics" or "GPCR ligand research." I'm interested in mass spectroscopy, so I was absorbed particularly by the in-depth discussion on whether it was necessary to spend $40K on a machine to direct microwaves to specific regions of a mouse brain to prevent post portem peptide cleavage, or whether just to remove your lasagne and pop the whole mouse head in the Russell Hobbs. I chatted to the experts after the symposium and will be e-mailed cooking instructions soon.

The other main attraction of large, international meetings is the chance to see some really clever people talk. Ferid Murad was Nobel Prize winner in 1998 for his work with Robert Furchgott on nitric oxide and cyclic GMP. (Professor Murad's PhD supervisor was Earl Sutherland, 1971 Nobel Prize winner for "second messenger" signalling). It was great, not just to hear the story of second messengers from an historical perspective, but also to learn about the latest research of the effect of NO on gene regulation, stem cells and in diseases of the endothelia.

I also spent my last two days at a satellite conference organised by two eminent neuroendocrinologists: Seiji Shioda and Masaki Tanaka. This involved a whole new batch of speakers, and I had only seen Takeshi Sakurai speak at the main ICE conference (and that was on a separate topic – neuropeptides B/W, rather than the orexins).

I had to bunk off at least one afternoon during my week in Japan. I'm not going to travel half way around the world and not see anything of the local environs. Kyoto has about fifteen world heritage sites (all Buddhist temples), plus the cherry blossom was out. It's a great city, so I had a good time, and I would strongly recommend visiting, if you ever get a chance.

Simon Luckman