Models vs theories in systems biology

23 September 2005

Chuck Stevens
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory
Salk Institute and HHMI


The axon arbor made by a single neuron is used to distribute information over an extended region of brain to thousands of target neurons. Why are such arbors designed as they are? The usual ways of answering this question would involve determining what genes are responsible for the form of arbors, or developing a model that would generate arbors. I adopt a different approach, one more like what is used for physical theories, that exploits ideas about the function of arbors to derive a universal principle of arbor design. This principle is tested against anatomical data and is found to be provide an accurate account of both axonal and dendritic arbors.


C F Stevens, "Theory in Biology: Systems biology versus molecular biology", Current Biology 14:R51-2 2004.

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