Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Who decides in the brain?

15.01.2013
Whether in society or nature, decisions are often the result of complex interactions between many factors. Because of this it is usually difficult to determine how much weight the different factors have in making a final decision.
Neuroscientists face a similar problem since decisions made by the brain always involve many neurons. Within a collaboration of the University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, supported within the framework of the Bernstein Network, researchers lead by CIN professor Matthias Bethge have now shown how the weight of individual neurons in the decision-making process can be reconstructed despite interdependencies between the neurons.

When we see a person on the other side of the street who looks like an old friend, the informational input enters the brain via many sensory neurons. But which of these neurons are crucial in passing on the relevant information to higher brain areas, which will decide who the person is and whether to wave and say 'hello'? A research group lead by Matthias Bethge has now developed an equation that allows us to calculate to what degree a given individual sensory neuron is involved in the decision process.

Large flocks of birds can rapidly change their direction without it being clear how such a decision develops, and whether some birds have a larger influence on it than others. Since the behavior of any one bird depends on that of its neighbors, answering this question is rather complicated. A similar problem is faced by neuroscientists who want to find out which neurons in a large network caused a particular decision.

Photo: Christoffer A. Rasmussen, CreativeCommons CC 1.0

To approach this question, experimental researchers have so far considered the information that an individual sensory neuron carries about the final decision. Just as an individual is considered suspicious if he or she is found to have insider information about a crime, those sensory neurons whose activity contains information about the eventual decision are presumed to have played a role in reaching the final decision. The problem with this approach is that neurons - much like people – are constantly communicating with each other. A neuron which itself is not involved in the decision may simply have received this information from a neighboring neuron, and “join the conversation”. Actually, the neighboring cell sends out the crucial signal transmitted to the higher decision areas in the brain.

The new formula that has been developed by scientists addresses this by accounting not just for the information in the activity of any one neuron but also for the communication that takes place between them. This formula will now be used to determine whether only a few neurons that carry a lot of information are involved in the brain's decision process, or whether the information contained in very many neurons gets combined. In particular, it will be possible to address the more fundamental question: In which decisions does the brain use information in an optimal way, and for which decisions is its processing suboptimal?

The National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience was initiated by the Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) in 2004 in order to establish the research discipline Computational Neuroscience in Germany. With the support of the BMBF, the network has developed into one of the largest research networks in the field of Computational Neuroscience worldwide. Namesake of the network is the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835-1917).
The Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN) is an interdisciplinary institution at the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen funded by the German Excellence Initiative program. Its aim is to deepen our understanding of how the brain generates function and how brain diseases impair them, guided by the conviction that any progress in understanding can only be achieved through an integrative approach spanning multiple levels of organization.

More information is available from:
Dr. Ralf Haefner
Volen National Center for Complex Systems,
Volen 208/MS 013,
Brandeis University,
Waltham, MA 02454 (USA)
eMail: ralf@brandeis.edu
Tel: +1 (781) 786 1683

Prof. Dr. Matthias Bethge
Werner Reichardt Center for Integrative Neurosciences
University of Tübingen
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics
Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience
Otfried-Müllerstr. 25
72076 Tübingen (Germany)
eMail: matthias@bethgelab.org
Tel: +49 (0)7071-29 89017

Original publication:
Haefner R.M., Gerwinn S., Macke J.H., Bethge M. (2013): „Inferring decoding strategies from choice probabilities in the presence of correlated variability“. Nature Neuroscience: Jan 13, 2013

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.3309

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.bethgelab.org
Homepage of the research group

http://www.bccn-tuebingen.de
Bernstein Center Tübingen

http://www.uni-tuebingen.de
University of Tübingen

http://www.kyb.tuebingen.mpg.de
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

http://www.cin.uni-tuebingen.de
Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience

http://www.nncn.de
National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience

Mareike Kardinal | idw
Further information:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.3309
http://www.nncn.de
http://www.bernstein-netzwerk.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Unique genome architectures after fertilisation in single-cell embryos
30.03.2017 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH

nachricht Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>