Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Memory in silent neurons

01.09.2014

When we learn, we associate a sensory experience either with other stimuli or with a certain type of behaviour.

The neurons in the cerebral cortex that transmit the information modify the synaptic connections that they have with the other neurons. According to a generally-accepted model of synaptic plasticity, a neuron that communicates with others of the same kind emits an electrical impulse as well as activating its synapses transiently.

This electrical pulse, combined with the signal received from other neurons, acts to stimulate the synapses. How is it that some neurons are caught up in the communication interplay even when they are barely connected?

This is the crucial chicken-or-egg puzzle of synaptic plasticity that a team led by Anthony Holtmaat, professor in the Department of Basic Neurosciences in the Faculty of Medicine at UNIGE, is aiming to solve. The results of their research into memory in silent neurons can be found in the latest edition of Nature.

Learning and memory are governed by a mechanism of sustainable synaptic strengthening. When we embark on a learning experience, our brain associates a sensory experience either with other stimuli or with a certain form of behaviour.

The neurons in the cerebral cortex responsible for ensuring the transmission of the relevant information, then modify the synaptic connections that they have with other neurons. This is the very arrangement that subsequently enables the brain to optimise the way information is processed when it is met again, as well as predicting its consequences.

Neuroscientists typically induce electrical pulses in the neurons artificially in order to perform research on synaptic mechanisms.

The neuroscientists from UNIGE, however, chose a different approach in their attempt to discover what happens naturally in the neurons when they receive sensory stimuli. They observed the cerebral cortices of mice whose whiskers were repeatedly stimulated mechanically without an artificially-induced electrical pulse. The rodents use their whiskers as a sensor for navigating and interacting; they are, therefore, a key element for perception in mice.

An extremely low signal is enough

By observing these natural stimuli, professor Holtmaat's team was able to demonstrate that sensory stimulus alone can generate long-term synaptic strengthening without the neuron discharging either an induced or natural electrical pulse. As a result – and contrary to what was previously believed – the synapses will be strengthened even when the neurons involved in a stimulus remain silent.

In addition, if the sensory stimulation lasts over time, the synapses become so strong that the neuron in turn is activated and becomes fully engaged in the neural network. Once activated, the neuron can then further strengthen the synapses in a forwards and backwards movement. These findings could solve the brain's "What came first?" mystery, as they make it possible to examine all the synaptic pathways that contribute to memory, rather than focusing on whether it is the synapsis or the neuron that activates the other.

The entire brain is mobilised

A second discovery lay in store for the researchers. During the same experiment, they were also able to establish that the stimuli that were most effective in strengthening the synapses came from secondary, non-cortical brain regions rather than major cortical pathways (which convey actual sensory information). Accordingly, storing information would simply require the co-activation of several synaptic pathways in the neuron, even if the latter remains silent.

These findings may also have important implications both for the way we understand learning mechanisms and for therapeutic possibilities, in particular for rehabilitation following a stroke or in neurodegenerative disorders. As professor Holtmaat explains: "It is possible that sensory stimulation, when combined with another activity (motor activity, for example), works better for strengthening synaptic connections". The professor concludes: "In the context of therapy, you could combine two different stimuli as a way of enhancing the effectiveness."

Anthony Holtmaat | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: UNIGE activity cerebral neurons plasticity sensory stimuli stimulus synaptic

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Protein Shake-Up
27.03.2015 | Oak Ridge National Laboratory

nachricht How did the chicken cross the sea?
27.03.2015 | Michigan State 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: Experiment Provides the Best Look Yet at 'Warm Dense Matter' at Cores of Giant Planets

In an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as...

Im Focus: Energy-autonomous and wireless monitoring protects marine gearboxes

The IPH presents a solution at HANNOVER MESSE 2015 to make ship traffic more reliable while decreasing the maintenance costs at the same time. In cooperation with project partners, the research institute from Hannover, Germany, has developed a sensor system which continuously monitors the condition of the marine gearbox, thus preventing breakdowns. Special feature: the monitoring system works wirelessly and energy-autonomously. The required electrical power is generated where it is needed – directly at the sensor.

As well as cars need to be certified regularly (in Germany by the TÜV – Technical Inspection Association), ships need to be inspected – if the powertrain stops...

Im Focus: 3-D satellite, GPS earthquake maps isolate impacts in real time

Method produced by UI researcher could improve reaction time to deadly, expensive quakes

When an earthquake hits, the faster first responders can get to an impacted area, the more likely infrastructure--and lives--can be saved.

Im Focus: Atlantic Ocean overturning found to slow down already today

The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe. 

Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been...

Im Focus: Robot inspects concrete garage floors and bridge roadways for damage

Because they are regularly subjected to heavy vehicle traffic, emissions, moisture and salt, above- and underground parking garages, as well as bridges, frequently experience large areas of corrosion. Most inspection systems to date have only been capable of inspecting smaller surface areas.

From April 13 to April 17 at the Hannover Messe (hall 2, exhibit booth C16), engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing IZFP will be...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Conference On Regenerative Medicine 2015: Registration And Abstract Submission Now Open

25.03.2015 | Event News

University presidents from all over the world meet in Hamburg

19.03.2015 | Event News

10. CeBiTec Symposium zum Big Data-Problem

17.03.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Two Most Destructive Termite Species Forming Superswarms in South Florida

27.03.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

ORNL-Led Team Demonstrates Desalination with Nanoporous Graphene Membrane

27.03.2015 | Materials Sciences

Coorong Fish Hedge Their Bets for Survival

27.03.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>