A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences answers that question for a small area of the rat brain and in so doing takes a big step toward revealing the brain’s wiring.
The network of brain connections was thought too complex to describe, but molecular biology and computing methods have improved to the point that the National Institutes of Health have announced a $30 million plan to map the human “connectome.”
The study shows the power of a new method for tracing brain circuits.
USC College neuroscientists Richard H. Thompson and Larry W. Swanson used the method to trace circuits running through a “hedonic hot spot” related to food enjoyment.
The circuits showed up as patterns of circular loops, suggesting that at least in this part of the rat brain, the wiring diagram looks like a distributed network.
Neuroscientists are split between a traditional view that the brain is organized as a hierarchy, with most regions feeding into the “higher” centers of conscious thought, and a more recent model of the brain as a flat network similar to the Internet.
“We started in one place and looked at the connections. It led into a very complicated series of loops and circuits. It’s not an organizational chart. There’s no top and bottom to it,” said Swanson, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Milo Don and Lucille Appleman Professor of Biological Sciences at USC College.
The circuit tracing method allows the study of incoming and outgoing signals from any two brain centers. It was invented and refined by Thompson over eight years. Thompson is a research assistant professor of biological sciences at the College.
Most other tracing studies at present focus only on one signal, in one direction, at one location.
“[We] can look at up to four links in a circuit, in the same animal at the same time. That was our technical innovation,” Swanson said.
The Internet model would explain the brain’s ability to overcome much local damage, Swanson said.
“You can knock out almost any single part of the Internet and the rest of it works.”
Likewise, Swanson said, “There are usually alternate pathways through the nervous system. It’s very hard to say that any one part is absolutely essential.”
Swanson first argued for the distributed model of the brain in his acclaimed book Brain Architecture: Understanding the Basic Plan (Oxford University Press, 2003).
The PNAS study appears to support his view.
“There is an alternate model. It’s not proven, but let’s rethink the traditional way of regarding how the brain works,” he said.
“The part of the brain you think with, the cortex, is very important, but it’s certainly not the only part of the nervous system that determines our behavior.”
The research described in the PNAS study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the National Institutes of Health.
Carl Marziali | EurekAlert!
A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg
Urbanization to convert 300,000 km2 of prime croplands
27.12.2016 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction