In the light of the upcoming NeuroPSI-Chen Institute Joint Conference on Brain, Behavior & Beyond, The NeuroPSI opening conference, (www.opening-conference.neuro-psi.fr/), learn more about the origin of NeuroPSI in an interview with the Director Francois Rouyer
Born of a union of neuroscience labs from CNRS and Université Paris-Saclay, spanning a gamut of research themes, NeuroPSI continues to strive towards the vision of diversity in neuroscience research.
An afternoon spent in conversation with Dr. Rouyer unearthed the history of this newly minted research institute in the beautiful green suburbs of south-west Paris. NeuroPSI was founded by the merging of Centre of Neuroscience Paris-Sud in Orsay and the Institute of Neuroscience Alfred Fessard in Gif-sur-Yvette. Following the establishment of the state-of-the-art brain imaging center, NeuroSpin, at the CEA Paris-Saclay location, NeuroPSI moved right next to it in 2021 combining the two historical institutes of Gif-sur-Yvette and Orsay into a brand new building dedicated to neuroscience. “It was an interesting challenge to be the director of a newly merged Institute, the main focus being getting the best of two cultures of CNRS and of the University – for teaching and research in neuroscience.”, says Dr. Rouyer.
NeuroPSI now houses 22 groups with multiple research scientists, engineers, students at all levels from Masters/Bachelors interns to PhD and postdoctoral researchers. The research themes range from molecular and cellular to circuit, behavioral and computational neuroscience with a diversity of model systems from drosophila, fish, rodents, birds and even marine mammals in the wild. This diversity is a very important aspect as it is the very foundation upon which the Institute was established. “While this diversity itself was a challenge initially, by promoting more group meetings and symposiums as well as joint technical platforms and shared resources, we hope to keep encouraging more inter-disciplinary exchange of ideas and research”, says Dr. Rouyer. “One of the things that makes the institute unique in this region is its integrative nature and the large infrastructure that can easily house more than 25 research teams.” To exploit the infrastructural advantage, NeuroPSI has started an annual recruitment program to hire new research team leaders. “The vision is to expand the research topics further with some key focus areas such as animal models of neurological and psychiatric diseases, neuronal basis of cognitive functions, multisensory integration, internal states and environment interactions with brain development and function.”, says Dr. Rouyer, adding that “young people, young researchers are the key to this.”
As part of a strategic approach, one of the plans is to focus on the development of new approaches such as genetic studies in the fields of developmental and integrative neurophysiology and further developing the existing technological platforms at NeuroPSI to incorporate single-cell and spatial transcriptomics, advanced functional imaging technologies and new capabilities for behavioral analysis. “Having an exchange between human studies and animal model studies is going to be an important focus in the future and we aim to develop these exchanges by putting efforts in genome-wide genetic approaches and behavioral testing, neuronal network modeling and brain-machine interfaces.
This will also require increasing our capacity and expertise in data analysis. Working in collaboration with NeuroSpin will be important as they are already pursuing research involving whole-brain imaging in primates.”, elaborates Dr. Rouyer, “Nevertheless, a lot of work is in front of us to fill the gap between electron microscopy analysis of the connectome in the drosophila brain and magnetic imaging of the human brain.” Dr. Rouyer adds, “Another important goal would be to offer advanced neuroscience courses with a focus on NeuroPSI and NeuroSpin research, as part of the curriculum at the Université-Paris Saclay.”
Talking about the upcoming NeuroPSI Opening Day symposium, Dr. Rouyer says, “The idea was to celebrate us moving here.” The symposium is a two-day event, the first of a series of conferences on Brain, Behavior and Beyond, organized in partnership with the Chen Institute and brings together some great scientists from across the world, including the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Michael Rosbash. “The selection of speakers and the itinerary of the symposium is also in keeping with this theme of diversity; to cover a wide range of topics and gives students and postdocs of various departments the opportunity to showcase their work.”, asserted Dr. Rouyer. The symposium will be a great opportunity for all researchers at the Institute to come together to celebrate the diversity of science and the people of NeuroPSI, heralding the beginning of many new discoveries and celebrations to come.
Interview by Anindita Das, postdoc in the Neural code & Auditory Perception team