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Croonian Lecture 2012 by Professor Tim Bliss FRS
Professor Tim Bliss FRS, National Institute for Medical Research
How does the brain store and recall memories? A critical neural component of memory is the synapse, a specialist junction where one nerve cell releases a transmitter chemical to influence the excitability of another. Memorable events are thought to induce long-lasting changes in the strength of synapses in the neural network activated by the event. It is this pattern of strengthened or weakened synapses that encodes the neural trace or memory of the event. The discovery over forty years ago of a phenomenon called long-term potentiation confirmed that appropriate patterns of synaptic activity can indeed induce long-lasting changes in synaptic strength in the hippocampus, a cortical structure known to be required for the laying down of new memories. This lecture will discuss how the study of long-term potentiation has led to a greater understanding of the physiological mechanisms of memory, and how this information might be used to enhance memory and to treat memory disorders.
Tim Bliss was born in England and gained his PhD at McGill University in Canada. In 1967 he joined the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill, London, where he was Head of the Division of Neurophysiology from 1988 till 2006. His work with Terje Lømo in Per Andersen’s laboratory at the University of Oslo in the late 1960s established the phenomenon of long-term potentiation (LTP) as the dominant model of how the mammalian brain stores memories. Since then he has worked on many aspects of LTP, including cellular mechanisms responsible for the persistent increase in synaptic efficacy that characterizes LTP, and the relationship between synaptic plasticity and memory. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1994 and is a founding fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Recognition of his work includes the Bristol Myers Squibb prize for Neuroscience with Eric Kandel in 1991, the Feldberg Prize in 1994 and the annual award for contributions to British Neuroscience from the British Neuroscience Association in 2003. He is co-editor of Long-Term Potentiation (OUP 2003) and The Hippocampus Book (OUP 2006).
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