|EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE UNTIL 1 P.M. CDT JUNE 27, 2001
Contact: Lynn Stewart, Centenary News Service, 318-869-5120, or Dr.
David Coppola, Mary Amelia Douglas-Whited Professor of Neuroscience, Centenary
Research by Centenary College, Duke University Neuroscientists Sheds
Light on the Role of Sensory Experience in Brain Cell Function
Prestigious Scientific Journal, Nature, Reports on their Discovery in June 28 Edition
SHREVEPORT, LA -- In this week's edition of the prestigious scientific
journal Nature, neuroscientists from Centenary College and Duke
University report on a new discovery that sheds light on early development
of the human nervous system.
"These studies should influence ophthalmologists who treat infants with
visual disabilities, as well as neuroscientists who continue to seek to
understand the dynamic interplay between nature (our genome) and nurture
(our experience)," said Dr. David Coppola of Centenary. "And that must
ultimately account for the wondrous complexity of brain structure and function."
Dr. Coppola points out that since the time of Descartes, scholars have
been trying to understand how sensory experience shapes the development
of our nervous system in early postnatal life.
A landmark discovery came in the early 1960s when Nobel laureates David
Hubel and Torsten Wiesel used the visual system to demonstrate that certain
functional properties of brain cells (called neurons) could be influenced
by manipulating sensory experience (vision in this case), especially
in the first few months of life. However, there has been little agreement
about whether and to what degree experience influences the initial formation
and subsequent maturation of functional properties of neurons.
In the June 28, 2001 edition of the British scientific journal, Dr.
Coppola, who is the Mary Amelia Douglas-Whited Professor of Neuroscience at Centenary,
along with two collaborators at Duke University Medical Center --
Drs. Leonard White and David Fitzpatrick -- report on the discovery
that sheds light on the vexing problem.
Using the visual system of an experimental animal as the model for their
studies, the professors showed that normal sensory experience is necessary
for the full maturation of certain functional properties of neurons in
the visual centers of the brain. This means that normal experience
is very beneficial in early postnatal life when brain structures are still
growing toward functional maturity.
However, they also demonstrated a darker side of experience: rearing
in an abnormal visual environment left neurons in the visual centers of
the brain profoundly impaired, even worse off than if no visual experience
of any kind had been permitted. Their study indicates that the brain
is endowed genetically with certain functional abilities that can be enhanced
or degraded, depending not on the quantity but on the quality of experience
encountered in early life.
Dr. Coppola has been a member of the Centenary College faculty since
1999 and previously was on the faculty at Duke University and Davidson
College. A native of Fredericksburg, Va., he earned the B.S. degree
in biology in 1979 from the University of Virginia, the M.S. in biology
in 1981 from East Tennessee State University and the Ph.D. in zoology in
1985 from North Carolina State University.
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