Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why the middle finger has such a slow connection

07.02.2012
PNAS: Inhibition of neighbouring nerve cells determines the reaction speed
RUB neuroscientists find new role of cortical maps
Each part of the body has its own nerve cell area in the brain –we therefore have a map of our bodies in our heads. The functional significance of these maps is largely unclear. What effects they can have is now shown by RUB neuroscientists through reaction time measurements combined with learning experiments and “computational modelling”. They have been able to demonstrate that inhibitory influences of neighbouring “finger nerve cells” affect the reaction time of a finger.

The fingers on the outside – i.e. the thumb and little finger - therefore react faster than the middle finger, which is exposed to the “cross fire” of two neighbours on each side. Through targeted learning, this speed handicap can be compensated. The working group led by PD Dr. Hubert Dinse (Neural Plasticity Lab at the Institute for Neuroral Computation) report in the current issue of PNAS.

Thumb and little finger are the quickest
The researchers set subjects a simple task to measure the speed of decision: they showed them an image on a monitor that represented all ten fingers. If one of the fingers was marked, the subjects were to press a corresponding key as quickly as possible with that finger. The thumb and little finger were the fastest. The middle finger brought up the rear. “You might think that this has anatomical reasons or depends on the exercise” said Dr Dinse, “but we were able to rule that out through further tests. In principle, each finger is able to react equally quickly. Only in the selection task, the middle finger is at a distinct disadvantage.”

Computer simulation depicts brain maps

To explain their observations, the researchers used computer simulations based on a so-called mean-field model. It is especially suited for modelling large neuronal networks in the brain. For these simulations, each individual finger is represented by a group of nerve cells, which are arranged in the form of a topographic map of the fingers based on the actual conditions in the somatosensory cortex of the brain. “Adjacent fingers are adjacent in the brain too, and thus also in the simulation”, explained Dr. Dinse. The communication of the nerve cells amongst themselves is organised so that the nerve cells interact through mutual excitation and inhibition.

Inhibitory influences from both sides slow down the middle finger

The computer simulations showed that the longer reaction time of the middle finger in a multiple choice task is a consequence of the fact that the middle finger is within the inhibition range of the two adjacent fingers. The thumb and little finger on the other hand only receive an inhibitory effect of comparable strength from one adjacent finger each. “In other words, the high level of inhibition received by the nerve cells of the middle fingers mean that it takes longer for the excitement to build up – they therefore react more slowly” said Dr. Dinse.

Targeted reduction of the inhibition through learning

From the results of the computer simulation it can be concluded that weaker inhibition from the neighbouring fingers would shorten the reaction time of the middle finger. This would require a so-termed plastic change in the brain – a specialty of the Neural Plasticity Lab, which has been studying the development of learning protocols that induce such changes for years. One such protocol is the repeated stimulation of certain nerve cell groups, which the laboratory has already used in many experiments. “If, for example, you stimulate one finger electrically or by means of vibration for two to three hours, then its representation in the brain changes” explained Dr. Dinse. The result is an improvement in the sense of touch and a measurable reduction of the inhibitory processes in this brain area. This also results in the enlargement of the representation of the finger stimulated.

Second experiment confirms the prediction

The Bochum researchers then conducted a second experiment in which the middle finger of the right hand was subjected to such stimulation. The result was a significant shortening of the reaction time of this finger in the selection task. “This finding confirms our prediction” Dr. Dinse summed up. Thus, for the first time, Bochum’s researchers have established a direct link between the so-called lateral inhibitory processes and decision making processes. They have shown that learning processes that change the cortical maps can have far-reaching implications not only for simple discrimination tasks, but also for decision processes that were previously attributed to the so-called “higher” cortical areas.

Funding

The research work was funded by the German National Academic Foundation and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (scholarships Claudia Wilimzig, now at the California Institute of Technology), a scholarship from the International Graduate School of Neuroscience at the RUB (Patrick Ragert, now at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig), the German Research Foundation (Di 334/10) and the Bernstein Focus “State dependencies of learning” (Hubert Dinse).

Bibliographic record

Claudia Wilimzig, Patrick Ragert, and Hubert R. Dinse. Cortical topography of intracortical inhibition influences the speed of decision making, PNAS (2012), doi/10.1073/pnas.1114250109

Further information

PD Dr. Hubert R. Dinse, Institute for Neuroral Computation, Neural Plasticity Lab at the Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, Tel. 0234/32-25565, E-Mail: hubert.dinse@rub.de, http://www.neuralplasticitylab.de

Editor: Meike Drießen

Dr. Josef König | idw
Further information:
http://www.neuralplasticitylab.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals
23.08.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Treating arthritis with algae
23.08.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Treating arthritis with algae

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Witnessing turbulent motion in the atmosphere of a distant star

23.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>