Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Driving brain rhythm makes mice more sensitive to touch

25.08.2014

By striking up the right rhythm in the right brain region at the right time, Brown University neuroscientists report in Nature Neuroscience that they managed to endow mice with greater touch sensitivity than other mice, making hard-to-perceive vibrations suddenly more vivid to them.

The findings offer the first direct evidence that "gamma" brainwaves in the cortex affect perception and attention. With only correlations and associations as evidence before, neuroscientists have argued for years about whether gamma has an important role or whether it's merely a byproduct — an "exhaust fume" in the words of one — of such brain activity.


Using pulses of blue light in a type of brain cell in the sensory neocortex generated a gamma rhythm that made mice more touch sensitive.

Credit: Micheal Cohea/Brown University

"There's a lot of excitement about the importance of gamma rhythms in behavior, as well as a lot of skepticism," said co-lead author Joshua Siegle, a former graduate student at Brown University and MIT, who is now at the Allen Institute for Neuroscience. "Rather than try to correlate changes in gamma rhythms with changes in behavior, which is what researchers have done in the past, we chose to directly control the cells that produce gamma."

The result was a mouse with whiskers that were about 20 percent more sensitive.

"There were a lot of ways this experiment could have failed but instead to our surprise it was pretty decisive from the very first subject we looked at — that under certain conditions we can make a super-perceiving mouse," said Christopher Moore, associate professor of neuroscience at Brown and senior author of the study. "We're making a mouse do better than a mouse could have done otherwise."

Specifically, Moore and co-first authors Siegle and Dominique Pritchett performed their experiments by using optogenetics — a technique of using light to control the firing patterns of neurons — to generate a gamma rhythm by manipulating inhibitory interneurons in the primary sensory neocortex of mice. That part of the brain controls a mouse's ability to detect faint sensations via its whiskers.

A different part of the brain handles stronger, more imposing sensations, Moore said. The primary sensory neocortex, a particular feature of mammals, has the distinction of allowing an animal to purposely pay attention to more subtle sensations. It's the difference between the feeling of gently brushing a fingertip along a wood board to assess if it needs a bit more sanding and the feeling of dropping the wood board on a foot.

Before anything else in the paper, the researchers confirmed that mice naturally produce a 40-hertz gamma rhythm in their sensory neocortex sometimes. Then they optogenetically generated that gamma rhythm with precise pulses of blue light. Mice with this rhythm could more often detect the fainter vibrations the researchers supplied to their whiskers than could mice who did not have the rhythm going in their brains.

Control and optogenetically stimulated mice alike had been conditioned to indicated their detection of a supplied stimulus by licking a water bottle. The vibrations provided to the mice to sense covered a span of 17 different levels of detectability.

The team's hypothesis was that the gamma rhythm of the stimulated neurons, because they inhibit the transmission of sensation messages by pyramidal neurons in the neocortex with a structured periodicity, actually orders the pyramidal messages into a more coherent and therefore stronger train.

"It's not surprising that these synchronized bursts of activity can benefit signal transmission, in the same way that synchronized clapping in a crowd of people is louder than random clapping," Siegle said.

This idea suggested that the timing of the rhythm matters.

So in another experiment, Siegle, Pritchett, and Moore varied the onset of the gamma rhythm by increments of 5 milliseconds to see whether it made a difference to perception. It did. The mice showed their increased sensitivity only so long as the gamma rhythms were underway 20-25 milliseconds before the subtle sensations were presented. If they weren't, the mice experienced on average no impact on sensitivity.

One of the key implications from the findings for neuroscience, Moore said, is that the way gamma rhythms appear to structure the processing of perception is more important than the mere firing rate of neurons in the sensory neocortex. Mice became better able to feel not because neurons became more active (they didn't), but because they were entrained by a precisely timed rhythm.

Although the study provides causal evidence of a functional importance for gamma rhythms, Moore acknowledged, it still leaves open important questions. The exact mechanism by which gamma rhythms affect sensation processing and attention are not proved, only hypothesized.

And in one experiment, optogenetically stimulated mice appeared less able to detect the most obvious and imposing of the sensations, even as they became more sensitive to the more subtle ones. In other experiments, however, their detection of major sensations was not compromised.

But the possible loss of sensitivity to stimuli that are easier to feel could be consistent with a shifting of attention to fainter ones, said Pritchett, also a former Brown and MIT student now at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal.

"What we are showing is that, paradoxically, the rhythmic inhibitory input works to amplify threshold stimuli, possibly at the expense of salient stimuli," he said. "This is precisely what you would expect from a mechanism that might be responsible for selective attention in the brain."

Therefore, Siegle, Pritchett, and Moore say they do have a better feel now for what's going on in the brain.

###

The National Institutes of Health funded the research.

David Orenstein | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu

Further reports about: Driving activity clapping evidence feeling neurons processing rhythm rhythms sensitive sensitivity sensory stimuli

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Why do animals fight members of other species?
24.04.2015 | University of California - Los Angeles

nachricht Is a small artificially composed virus fragment the key to a Chikungunya vaccine?
24.04.2015 | Paul-Ehrlich-Institut - Bundesinstitut für Impfstoffe und biomedizinische Arzneimittel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Fast and Accurate 3-D Imaging Technique to Track Optically-Trapped Particles

KAIST researchers published an article on the development of a novel technique to precisely track the 3-D positions of optically-trapped particles having complicated geometry in high speed in the April 2015 issue of Optica.

Daejeon, Republic of Korea, April 23, 2015--Optical tweezers have been used as an invaluable tool for exerting micro-scale force on microscopic particles and...

Im Focus: NOAA, Tulane identify second possible specimen of 'pocket shark' ever found

Pocket sharks are among the world's rarest finds

A very small and rare species of shark is swimming its way through scientific literature. But don't worry, the chances of this inches-long vertebrate biting...

Im Focus: Drexel materials scientists putting a new spin on computing memory

Ever since computers have been small enough to be fixtures on desks and laps, their central processing has functioned something like an atomic Etch A Sketch, with electromagnetic fields pushing data bits into place to encode data.

Unfortunately, the same drawbacks and perils of the mechanical sketch board have been just as pervasive in computing: making a change often requires starting...

Im Focus: Exploding stars help to understand thunderclouds on Earth

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer - how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was discovered, more or less by coincidence, that cosmic rays provide suitable probes to measure electric fields within thunderclouds. This surprising finding is published in Physical Review Letters on April 24th. The measurements were performed with the LOFAR radio telescope located in the Netherlands.

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer - how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was...

Im Focus: On the trail of a trace gas

Max Planck researcher Buhalqem Mamtimin determines how much nitrogen oxide is released into the atmosphere from agriculturally used oases.

In order to make statements about current and future air pollution, scientists use models which simulate the Earth’s atmosphere. A lot of information such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

HHL Energy Conference on May 11/12, 2015: Students Discuss about Decentralized Energy

23.04.2015 | Event News

“Developing our cities, preserving our planet”: Nobel Laureates gather for the first time in Asia

23.04.2015 | Event News

HHL's Entrepreneurship Conference on FinTech

13.04.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrons Move Like Light in Three-Dimensional Solid

24.04.2015 | Materials Sciences

Connecting Three Atomic Layers Puts Semiconducting Science on Its Edge

24.04.2015 | Materials Sciences

Understanding the Body’s Response to Worms and Allergies

24.04.2015 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>