Research has shown that when we pay attention, some of these neurons begin firing in unison, like a chorus rising above the noise. Now, a study in the May 29 issue of Science reveals the likely brain center that serves as the conductor of this neural chorus.
MIT neuroscientists found that neurons in the prefrontal cortex — the brain’s planning center — fire in unison and send signals to the visual cortex to do the same, generating high-frequency waves that oscillate between these distant brain regions like a vibrating spring. These waves, also known as gamma oscillations, have long been associated with cognitive states like attention, learning, and consciousness.
“We are especially interested in gamma oscillations in the prefrontal cortex because it provides top-down influences over other parts of the brain,” explains senior author Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience at MIT. “We know that the prefrontal cortex is affected in people with schizophrenia, ADHD and many other brain disorders, and that gamma oscillations are also altered in these conditions. Our results suggest that altered neural synchrony in the prefrontal cortex could disrupt communication between this region and other areas of the brain, leading to altered perceptions, thoughts, and emotions.”
To explain neural synchrony, Desimone uses the analogy of a crowded party with people talking in different rooms. If individuals raise their voices at random, the noise just becomes louder. But if a group of individuals in one room chant together in unison, the next room is more likely to hear the message. And if people in the next room chant in response, the two rooms can communicate.
In the Science study, Desimone looked for patterns of neural synchrony in two ”rooms” of the brain associated with attention — the frontal eye field (FEF) within the prefrontal cortex and the V4 region of the visual cortex. Lead authors Georgia Gregoriou, a postdoctoral associate in the Desimone lab, and Stephen Gotts of the National Institute of Mental Health, trained two macaque monkeys to watch a monitor displaying multiple objects, and to concentrate on one of the objects when cued. They monitored neural activity from the FEF and the V4 regions of the brain when the monkeys were either paying attention to the object or ignoring it.
When the monkeys first paid attention to the appropriate object, neurons in both areas showed strong increases in activity. Then, as if connected by a spring, the oscillations in each area began to synchronize with one another. Desimone’s team analyzed the timing of the neural activity and found that the prefrontal cortex became engaged by attention first, followed by the visual cortex — as if the prefrontal cortex commanded the visual region to snap to attention. The delay between neural activity in these areas during each wave cycle reflected the speed at which signals travel from one region to the other — indicating that the two brain regions were talking to one another.
Desimone suspects this pattern of oscillation is not just specific to attention, but could also represent a more general mechanism for communication between different parts of the brain. These findings support speculation that gamma synchrony enables far-flung regions of the brain to rapidly communicate with each other — which has important implications for understanding and treating disorders ranging from schizophrenia to impaired vision and attention. “This helps us think about how to approach studying and treating these disorders by finding ways to restore gamma rhythms in the affected brain regions.”
Huihui Zhou, a research scientist in the Desimone lab, contributed to this study. The NIH/National Eye Institute and National Institute of Mental Health supported this research.
Elizabeth A. Thomson | Newswise Science News
Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences