Charles Gilbert on Relationship Between Gene Expression and Behavior
  Charles Gilbert     Biography    
Recorded: 08 Sep 1999

right now I’m working in an area known as neural systems research. But this is an area of integrated biology which is really quite different from the work that I was doing when I was an URP at Cold Spring Harbor.

The initial work that I was doing was in Lambda phage and bacterial genetics and so on and this was something that was much more the main line of what Cold Spring Harbor was at the time. It’s interesting that my own career has gone much more towards integrated neuroscience. Cold Spring Harbor itself has put a large effort into neurobiology, and maybe not quite as at a cognitive level as my own work has gone, and it’s also recognized the importance of neurobiology and biological research in general.

But its—while I had decided early on that I was interested in working at the more systemic level—the more holistic level to look at how the mechanisms underlying behavior and perception which at the time mandated the use of other techniques—molecular techniques. Now my own work is coming somewhat full circle and I’m interested in the problem of how one maps. How does gene expression alter behavior?

And so coming from the standpoint of integrated neurobiologist, I have a particular take in how one can use molecular approaches to do this mapping between patterns of gene expression and the behavior of the whole organisms.

But it’s interesting that what with the key element of integrative neuroscience is that you look at the activity of ensembles of neurons and how they operate in a combinatorial and interactive fashion to promote or to allow certain behaviors or to do—to—the way in which these ensembles underlying object perception, which is the fundamental problem which I’m working on. It’s not only object perception but perceptual learning.

When one thinks about the operation of genes, the approach for many years has been to say—well, if you disrupt one particular gene, how [does] that affects a behavior. But that only gives one a very limited window in understanding how gene expression contributes to behavior.

Now there are new techniques that allow one to take a much more holistic approach, where—(appears to be a break in tape)—tell me when you’re ready to roll.

: Okay. So the point I was trying to make was that in a very analogous fashion—how you look at the relationship between neural activity and behavior. Looking at the relationship between gene expression behavior you’ll find a similar kind of form of analysis treating gene expression itself as a complex system where the gene themselves all create in a combinatorial and interactive fashion. And therefore, I think, that the neural systems prospective helps give the unique point of view towards looking at the relationship between gene expression and behavior.

And honestly now, its quite possible using gene chip technology to be able to do that. To look at the full ensemble of genes that are involved in any particular behavior.

And so that is something that—that’s an aspect of the research that I’m doing now that kind of returns me back to my origins at Cold Spring Harbor in molecular biology

Charles Gilbert is a Head of Laboratory of Neurobiology at Rockefeller University and Arthur and Janet Ross Professor of Neuroscience at The Rockefeller University. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D from Harvard University. In 1993 he joined Rockefeller University as assistant professor and head of laboratory. In 1985 he became associate professor and professor in 1991.

Gilbert's research focus on the brain mechanisms of visual perception and learning, including the specific role of the brain’s primary visual cortex in analyzing visual images and in processing visual memory.

He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Posit Science Corporation and member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received the W. Alden Spencer Award from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.