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    You gotta have skin;
    All you really need is skin.
    Skin's the thing, that if you've got it outside,
    It helps keep your insides in.

    Allan Sherman (1924-1973)

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    You gotta have skin;
    All you really need is skin.
    Skin's the thing, that if you've got it outside,
    It helps keep your insides in.

    Allan Sherman (1924-1973)

Ancient history

Mathew Diamond's PhD thesis concerned the organization of the cortical body representation in laboratory animals (Diamond, 1989; Favorov and Diamond, 1990; Diamond and Ebner, 1990). Prior to this work, columns in somatosensory cortex had been recognized by Mountcastle based on submodality: neurons responding to a given sort of stimulus (e.g. tactile, joint, muscle) were grouped together in a module and segregated from modules receiving other submodalities. With Favorov and Whitsel, Diamond recognized that within a single submodality the same sort of grouping existed based upon the position of neurons' receptive fields. The cortical body representation, first identified by Penfield, was found to be organized not as a smooth, continuous map but as a mosaic of discrete, but interconnected, columnar modules.

What role does such columnar organization play in the functioning of somatosensory cortex? As a postdoctoral fellow with Prof. Ford Ebner at Brown University, and subsequently as assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, Diamond focused on the phenomenon of cortical map plasticity, which had recently been described by the laboratories of Mike Merzenich and Jon Kaas. Diamond first hypothesized (Diamond and Armstrong-James, 1992), and then demonstrated, that cortex adjusts to changes in sensory experience through modifications in the connections between columnar modules (Diamond et al., 1993; Diamond et al., 1994; also Lebedev et al., 2000). For this work, Diamond was awarded the Cortical Explorer Prize of the Cajal Club.