“How do you know if your blue is the same as my blue?” I asked my older brother. We were both looking up and staring at the skies, struggling to find the answer that seemed obvious until that moment. Years passed by and that question continued to echo in my mind, not only because it was interesting, but also because of what it was really about for me – paying attention to the things we take for granted, and trying to understand how they work. This point of view has later deepened and developed into a way of life. I chose science-oriented studies at every crossroad I have encountered, from a middle-school robotics class, through my bachelor’s degree in biology and neuroscience, to the Ph.D. program in computational neuroscience at ELSC in which I am currently enrolled.
I study astrocytes, star-shaped cells that were long considered to have merely supportive roles, and attempt to unravel their effects on electrical communication in the brain, which underlies memory formation, under the co-supervision of Prof. Inbal Goshen and Dr. Mickey London.
On my first project (published in Cell, 2018), I found that specifically activating astrocytes, without any direct manipulation of neurons, strengthens the electrical connections between nerve cells. The ever-changing strength of neuronal connections is termed “plasticity”, and considered as the mechanism allowing us to learn and create memories. Indeed, we discovered that activating astrocytes in behaving mice not only generates plasticity, but also enhances cognitive performance. In my second project (published in Nature neuroscience, 2020), I have pushed the known functional limits of astrocytes on neuronal activity even further, and examined their effect on inter-region functional connectivity. I found that astrocytic manipulation impairs the neuronal communication between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, two brain regions known to be involved in the formation of remote memories. This same manipulation in behaving mice resulted in a specific impairment in remote, but not recent, memory recall. These exciting results reveal that astrocytes can carry functional roles that extend far beyond what was originally thought.
One of the things I have discovered about myself during my doctoral studies is that I really enjoy teaching science. For several years, I have been teaching a neurobiology introductory course for advanced student, together with Prof. Goshen. Teaching enables me to critically rethink every concept in my knowledge base, and to look at it from new angles. In addition, I get the opportunity to share my passion and enthusiasm towards science with talented students who feel the same.
Throughout my Ph.D. I have learned that scientific work demands patience and delayed gratification, as long hours of work are spent on calibrations, troubleshooting by trial and error. Undoubtedly, I experienced many moments of frustration, but still felt privileged to wake up every morning and do something that I love and enjoy. Seeing and hearing electrical pulses of neurons, responding and modulating the experiment in real time, acquiring and exploring data, excites me every single time. Moreover, when I obtained the results of my projects, I felt I made a true and meaningful contribution to my field of research. These emotions assure me that I am on the right path and drive me forward.
Adi Kol started the direct Ph.D. program at ELSC in 2013. Her research in the Goshen lab focuses on astrocytic effects on brain function. Kol has a dual B.Sc. degree in brain science and biology from Bar-Ilan University, graduating magna cum laude. She volunteers as programming tutor for girls in high school to promote women in science and technology, and lectures on her research for the general public to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science.