Dr. Walter Koroshetz describes advances in molecular and systems neuroscience that may reveal secrets of how the brain works and issue in a Golden Age of Neuroscience.
In the first decades of the 20th century physics entered a golden age as experimentalists and theorists uncovered the secrets of matter and energy. Modern neuroscience began to sprout in the second half of the 20th century and has been growing exponentially over the past 4 decades. A series of major advances at the end of the 20th and extending into the 21st century identified key molecules, transmitters, receptors, other signaling molecules and even molecular pathways in normal and diseased tissue. In 2014 the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was launched with a mandate to develop new technologies to enable the study of brain circuits. From its outset, its singular focus was on applying those technologies toward fundamental questions of how neural circuits integrate sensory information and produce behaviors. Fueled in large part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), neurotechnologies have now developed that allow investigators to map, monitor and modulate complex neural circuits, enabling the pursuit of research questions previously considered unapproachable. As a result, systems neuroscience has witnessed a renaissance. Yet it is the convergence of molecular neuroscience with the new systems neuroscience that promises the greatest future advances. This is particularly true for our understanding of nervous system disorders, some of which have known molecular drivers or identifiable brain pathology but we lack knowledge of how these disturb circuit function to cause a patient’s disability. Others are without known molecular causes or obvious neuropathology are even more dependent upon new abilities to identify and characterize the disordered circuit(s). Molecular and systems neuroscience are advancing at such pace that as they converge it is difficult to imagine that they will not reveal secrets of how the brain works and issue in a Golden Age of Neuroscience.