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PhD, University of London

Office: Life Sciences Building 518
Office: (631) 632-6938
Fax: (631) 632-6661

The Adams website




Paul Adams attended Cambridge University (UK) and received a B.A. in Physiology and Pharmacology in 1968. He continued his education at London University (UK), receiving a Ph.D. in Pharmacology in 1974. Professor Adams was on the faculty of the University of Texas from 1977 to 1981. He came to the State University of New York at Stony Brook as Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior in 1981 and was promoted to the rank of Professor in 1984. He held concurrent appointments of Professor of Neurology from 1987 to 1989 and Professor of Pharmacological Sciences from 1987 to 2002. From 1987 to 1995 he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Professor Adams was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Prize in 1986 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1991. He has served on the Editorial Boards of numerous journals (including, currently, Frontiers in Neural Circuits)


“If at first an idea does not seem completely crazy, there is no hope for it” – Albert Einstein

The neocortex is widely thought to be the seat of mind and intelligence, and while it has many specialized areas they all share distinctive but puzzling features, which are presumably necessary for sophisticated cognition and behavior. Elucidating these features is the greatest challenge in neuroscience. Our work starts from the common assumption that learning, primarily by activity-dependent, “Hebbian”, adjustment of individual synaptic connections, is the key to intelligence, but rather than studying the details of algorithms and their neural implementation, which might be task-specific, we focus on the general necessity for highly connection-specific plasticity. We suspect that close-packed synapses cannot adjust completely independently, that this is the principal barrier to sophisticated learning, and that the unique but universal circuitry of the neocortex might overcome this problem by a process analogous to the molecular “proofreading” underlying accurate DNA replication and evolutionary adaptation.  Our crucial theoretical result is that complex learning (i.e. driven by higher-order correlations) is not possible unless synapse adjustment is extremely accurate. Our proposed practical solution is that layer 6 corticothalamic neurons verify that apparent spike coincidences at specific thalamocortical connections (which underlie detailed “receptive fields”) actually occur, permitting specific spike-induced plasticity using selective feedback to the 2 relevant, pre- and post-synaptic neurons. The 4 types of connections (to and from layer 6 cells), and the corresponding physiology, needed for this “Hebbian proofreading”, match what is seen.

  • Publications
  • Laboratory Personnel
    • Cox KJA, Adams PR From Life to Mind: 2 Prosaic Miracles? In: Simeonov PL,Smith LS, Ehresmann AC (eds) Integral Biomathics: Tracing the Road to Reality. Proceedings of iBioMath 2011, Paris and ACIB '11, Stirling UK.,2012. Springer-Verlag (pdf)
    • Cox K and Adams PR (2009) Hebbian crosstalk prevents nonlinear unsupervised learning. Front. Comput. Neurosci. 3:1-20 2009 (pdf)
    • Radulescu, A., Cox, K., and Adams, P. (2009). Hebbian errors in learning: an analysis using the Oja model. J. Theor. Biol. 258, 489-501. (pdf)
    • Adams, P and Cox, K. (2006). A neurobiological perspective on building intelligent devices. The Neuromorphic Engineer 3, 2-10 (pdf)
    • Adams, P. and Cox, K. (2002). A new interpretation of thalamocortical circuitry. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B, 357, 1767-1779. (pdf)
    • Adams,P.R. and Cox, K.J.A. (2002). Synaptic Darwinism and neocortical function. Neurocomputing 42, 197-214 (pdf)
    • Cox, K.J.A. and Adams, P.R. (2000). Implications of synaptic digitisation and error for neocortical function. Neurocomputing. 32-33, 673-678 (pdf)
    • Adams P. (2000) To Sleep, Perchance to Dream. Science Spectra 23, 46-55
    • O'Malley,D.M., Burbach, B.J. and Adams, P.R. (1999). Fluorescent calcium indicators: subcellular behavior and use in confocal imaging. In: "Methods in Molecular Biology, vol 122: Confocal Microscopy Methods and Protocols. Ed. S. Padddock. Humana Press, Totowa, N.J.
    • Adams, P.R (1998). Hebb and Darwin. J. Theoret. Biol. 195:419-438  (pdf)
    • Zhou,Q., Godwin,D.W., O'Malley,D.M. and Adams, P.R. (1997). Visualisation of calcium influx through channels that shape the burst and tonic firing modes of thalamic relay cells. J. Neurophysiol. 77: 2816-2825.
  •  Kingsley Cox - Research Assistant Professor