Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Listen! How nerve cells flexibly adapt to acoustic signals


Depending on the input signal, neurons generate action potentials either near or far away from the cell body, as researcher from Munich predict. This flexibility would improve our ability to localize sound sources.

In order to process acoustic information with high temporal fidelity, nerve cells may flexibly adapt their mode of operation according to the situation. At low input frequencies, they generate most outgoing action potentials close to the cell body.

A neuron in the brain stem, that processes acoustic information. Depending on the situation, the cell generates action potentials in the axon (thin process) either close to or far from the body.

Felix Felmy, 2014

Following inhibitory or high frequency excitatory signals, the cells produce many action potentials more distantly. This way, they are highly sensitive to the different types of input signals.

These findings have been obtained by a research team headed by Professor Christian Leibold, Professor Benedikt Grothe, and Dr. Felix Felmy from the Bernstein Center and the Bernstein Focus Neurotechnology in Munich and the LMU Munich, who used computer models in their study. The researchers report their results in the latest issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Did the bang come from ahead or from the right? In order to localize sound sources, nerve cells in the brain stem evaluate the different arrival times of acoustic signals at the two ears. Being able to detect temporal discrepancies of up to 10 millionths of a second, the neurons have to become excited very quickly. In this process, they change the electrical voltage that prevails on their cell membrane.

If a certain threshold is exceeded, the neurons generate a strong electrical signal—a so-called action potential—which can be transmitted efficiently over long axon distances without weakening. In order to reach the threshold, the input signals are summed up. This is achieved easier, the slower the nerve cells alter their electrical membrane potential.

These requirements—rapid voltage changes for a high temporal resolution of the input signals, and slow voltage changes for an optimal signal integration that is necessary for the generation of an action potential—represent a paradoxical challenge for the nerve cell. “This problem is solved by nature by spatially separating the two processes. While input signals are processed in the cell body and the dendrites, action potentials are generated in the axon, a cell process,” says Leibold, leader of the study. But how sustainable is the spatial separation?

In their study, the researchers measured the axons’ geometry and the threshold of the corresponding cells and then constructed a computer model that allowed them to investigate the effectiveness of this spatial separation. The researchers’ model predicts that depending on the situation, neurons produce action potentials with more or less proximity to the cell body.

For high frequency or inhibitory input signals, the cells will shift the location from the axon’s starting point to more distant regions. In this way, the nerve cells ensure that the various kinds of input signals are optimally processed—and thus allow us to perceive both small and large acoustic arrival time differences well, and thereby localize sounds in space.

The Bernstein Center Munich is part of the National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience in Germany. With this funding initiative, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has supported the new discipline of Computational Neuroscience since 2004 with over 170 million Euros. The network is named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835-1917).

Prof. Dr. Christian Leibold
Computational Neuroscience
Department Biology II
LMU Munich
Großhaderner Straße 2
82152 Planegg-Martinsried (Germany)
Tel: +49 (0)89 2180-74802

Original publication:
S. Lehnert, M. C. Ford, O. Alexandrova, F. Hellmundth, F. Felmy, B. Grothe & C. Leibold (2014): Action potential generation in an anatomically constrained model of medial superior olive axons. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(15): 5370—5384.

Weitere Informationen: personal website Christian Leibold Bernstein Center München LMU Munich National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience

Mareike Kardinal | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Bernstein LMU Neuroscience acoustic axons inhibitory neurons signals spatial voltage

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 >>>