Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Growing brain is particularly flexible

Max Planck scientists investigate how the brain changes during growth

Science has long puzzled over why a baby's brain is particularly flexible and why it easily changes. Is it because babies have to learn a lot? A group of researchers from the Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience, the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen, the Schiller University in Jena and Princeton University (USA) have now put forward a new explanation: Maybe it is because the brain still has to grow.

Using a combination of experiments, mathematical models and computer simulations they showed that neuronal connections in the visual cortex of cats are restructured during the growth phase and that this restructuring can be explained by self-organisational processes. The study was headed by Matthias Kaschube, former researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and now at Princeton University (USA). (PNAS, published online June 21, 2010)

The brain is continuously changing. Neuronal structures are not hard-wired, but are modified with every learning step and every experience. Certain areas of the brain of a newborn baby are particularly flexible, however. In animal experiments, the development of the visual cortex can be strongly influenced in the first months of life, for example, by different visual stimuli.

Nerve cells in the visual cortex of fully-grown animals divide up the processing of information from the eyes: Some "see" only the left eye, others only the right. Cells of right or left specialisation each lie close to one another in small groups, called columns. The researchers showed that during growth, these structures are not simply inflated - columns do not become larger but their number increases. Neither do new columns form from new nerve cells. The number of nerve cells remains almost unchanged, a large part of the growth of the visual cortex can be attributed to an increase in the number of non-neuronal cells. These changes can be explained by the fact that existing cells change their preference for the right or the left eye. In addition, another of the researchers' observations also points to such a restructuring: The arrangement of the columns changes. While the pattern initially looks stripy, these stripes dissolve in time and the pattern becomes more irregular.

"This is an enormous achievement by the brain - undertaking such a restructuring while continuing to function," says Wolfgang Keil, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization Göttingen and first author of the study. "There is no engineer behind this conducting the planning, the process must generate itself." The researchers used mathematical models and computer simulations to investigate how the brain could proceed to achieve this restructuring. On the one hand, the brain tries to keep the neighbourhood relations in the visual cortex as uniform as possible. On the other, the development of the visual cortex is determined by the visual process itself - cells which have once been stimulated more strongly by the left or right eye try to maintain this particular calling. The researchers' model explains the formation of columns by taking both these tendencies into account. The scientists showed that when the tissue grows and the size of the columns is kept constant, the columns in the computer model change exactly as they had observed in their experimental studies on the visual cortex of the cat: The stripes dissolve into a zigzag pattern and thus become more irregular. In this way, the researchers provide a mathematical basis which realistically describes how the visual cortex could restructure during the growth phase.

Original work:

Wolfgang Keil, Karl-Friedrich Schmidt, Siegrid Löwel and Matthias Kaschube
Reorganization of columnar architecture in the growing visual cortex
PNAS, published online on June 21, 2010
Wolfgang Keil
Max-Planck-Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen
Tel.: +49(0)551 5176 551

Barbara Abrell | Max Planck Society
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>