Science Fiction, Serendipity and Interneuron Specification: A Conversation with Dr. Gordon J. Fishell

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Gordon FishellIt is easy to assume that if a car has a gas pedal, it needs to have brakes, and similarly, if our brain has excitatory neurons, it needs inhibition too. For a long time, the field of neuroscience had thought of inhibitory interneurons as the “brakes” of the brain, providing suppression to neuronal activity. However, in my conversation with Dr. Gordon J. Fishell, I learned that interneurons are far more fascinating cell types than merely being inhibitory! Their multifarious morphology can be attributed to a palette of functions in brain developmental and regulation.

In addition to educating us about his research and what to expect at his Presidential Lecture at SfN14, Dr. Fishell chats up with Knowing Neurons about his journey into research. Did he always want to be a scientist? “No,” chuckles Dr. Fishell admittedly, and recalls being a young boy fascinated with science fiction. Although he hasn’t given up on his dream to become a sci-fi writer, Dr. Fishell reminisces over the one winter evening in his senior collegiate year that made him choose the path of research. Find out in my conversation with him as he describes the thrill of new discoveries in lab, the joy of being in grad school, the euphoria over one’s first-ever publication and the importance of identifying the ‘knock’ of an opportunity in being successful.

Be sure to catch Dr. Gordon Fishell’s talk at #SfN14 on Sunday, November 16, 2014 from 5:15pm – 6:25pm at WCC Hall D. His talk is titled, “The Integration of Interneurons into Cortical Circuits: Both Nurture and Nature.”

To read the full transcript of our conversation, download this PDF: A Conversation with Gordon Fishell


What we asked Dr. Gordon Fishell:


[0:11] I was wondering, when we learn in grad school about interneurons, we’re always taught that they’re like the brakes on a car when the glutamatergic neurons are like the gas. Was there a big turning point in this field that threw light on focusing on these inhibitory interneuron cell types?

[1:37] When you were a graduate student or even before that, were you spurred by the whole biology of interneurons back then? Or did you pave your way into it as you began other things?

[2:25] In development of the brain, at what point do you think interneurons start playing a role?

[3:32] With the advent of translational medicine, do you think interneurons might have a role to play in the pathophysiology of disorders?

[4:45] What is it that we should look forward to at your Presidential Lecture at SfN?


[5:35] How did you get where you were today, if you were to briefly describe?

[6:25] How much of a successful scientist is luck and how much of it is hard work?

[7:50] Did you always want to be a scientist?

[9:22] Tell us a little but about how you were in grad school?

[10:27] What was your favorite memory from grad school?

[11:54] In the last five years, what do you think is the most compelling neuroscience discovery or technique?

[13:27] Is there a neuroscientist that you admire?

[13:58] If you weren’t a neuroscientist, what would you be?

[14:24] If you weren’t in lab, what would you be seen doing?



Image by Jooyeun Lee.


Anita met neuroscience during her undergraduate project, and it was love at first sight. While majoring in biotechnology at the B.M.S. College of Engineering, Bangalore, she had the opportunity to learn about biochemical subtyping as a method for biomarker discovery in neurodevelopmental disorders. She then pursued a Master’s in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at USC. During her thesis project, her interest in translational neuroscience further evolved as she studied a kinase pathway (PI3K) highly implicated in autism. She currently belongs to the Neuroscience Graduate Program at USC and works on components of the blood-brain barrier and its integrity in animal models of neurological disorders. Outside the lab, Anita is very enthusiastic about educational and scientific storytelling! Some of her parallel interests include consumer psychology and behavior.