Neuroscientists at the German Primate Center show how nerve cells communicate with each other in neural networks
Thinking, feeling, acting - our brain is the control center in the head that steers everything we do. A network of about 100 billion nerve cells linked together by around 100 trillion synapses provides the basis for these mechanisms.
Neuroscientists at the German Primate Center (DPZ) – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research examined for the first time how this neural network is organized and how the flow of information between different brain areas is coordinated at the level of individual nerve cells.
Through studies with rhesus monkeys, they have found that the nerve cells in the different brain areas that control our hand movements strongly interact with each other and are organized in cross-area functional groups. They also showed that a few neurons control the network by acting as central nodes (hubs) and coordinate the flow of information within the nerve cell network. These hubs also greatly communicate with each other (rich-club) and thus form an area-spanning backbone for communication.
Interestingly, the type of communication between hubs differs from that of the remaining network. Information processing through hubs is characterized by their rhythmic activity that is synchronized to one another. This suggests that large groups of neurons synchronize rhythmically to connect parts of the brain together in order to solve specific tasks (eLife, 2016).
The performances of our brain like thinking, remembering, perceiving and motion control can only arise through the interaction of the network of nerve cells. It is the subject of numerous research projects to examine how this network is structured. Through graph theoretical approaches and brain studies like electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), it has been known for some time that various regions of the brain are organized as a complex network, which enables fast and fault-resistant information processing. Using these methods, it is not possible to measure the activity of individual nerve cells. However, this is necessary to understand how such neural diseases like schizophrenia and autism arise.
Studies on nerve cell level
“In our study, we want to find out how the network of individual nerve cells is organized through several brain areas”, says Benjamin Dann, PhD student in the Neurobiology Laboratory at the German Primate Center and lead author of the study. “We also wanted to know exactly how the flow of information between nerve cells of different brain areas is coordinated.” For this, three rhesus monkeys were trained to repeatedly execute a grasping task. During the task, the activity of nerve cells in three different areas of the brain, the anterior intraparietal cortex (AIP), the premotor cortex (F5), and the primary motor cortex (M1) was measured by so-called microelectrode arrays. These brain regions form a neural network that controls the planning and execution of hand movements.
Nerve cells in the rich-club fire rhythmically
The scientists found that the nerve cells of all three brain areas form a strong interconnected network, which is organized in turn into functional subunits (modules). Surprisingly, these modules do not correspond to the three considered brain areas. 84 percent of the modules were not limited to one area, but also included nerve cells of the other two areas. Moreover, they could show that there are individual neurons within the network, which play a central role. “These nodes or hubs have disproportionately more connections on the network than the other nerve cells”, Benjamin Dann explains. “In addition, they are highly interconnected and form a so-called rich-club at the cellular level, which can be used to coordinate the information routing in the network.”
Furthermore, the scientists observed that the nerve cells are rhythmically active in the rich-club and also communicate with the rest of the network rhythmically. The other nerve cells, however, are mainly arrhythmicly active. “We were the first to show that the rhythmic activity in fixed frequencies is an important feature of the central hub and rich-club cells that coordinate the information flow”, Benjamin Dann summarizes his results. “We assume that rhythmic synchrony of neurons is a key mechanism for fast and robust communication throughout the brain. Thus, even distant groups of neurons can be functionally connected to perform certain thoughts or actions.”
The study may contribute in the future to a better understanding of neuronal diseases such as schizophrenia and autism that are affected by interference from rhythmic synchrony and alterations in the network structure. Accurate knowledge of these processes in the brain is important in order to develop new therapies.
Dann, B., Michaels, J., Schaffelhofer, S., Scherberger H. (2016): Uniting functional network topology and oscillations in the fronto-parietal single unit network of behaving primates. eLife, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.15719
Contact and notes for editors
Phone: +49 551 3851-484
Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Scherberger
Phone: +49 551 3851-494
Dr. Sylvia Siersleben (Communication)
Phone: +49 551 3851-163
Printable pictures and captions are available in our media library. This press release with additional information is also to be found on our website. Please send us a copy or link in case of publication.
The German Primate Center (DPZ) – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research conducts biological and biomedical research on and with primates in the fields of infection research, neuroscience and primate biology. In addition, it operates four field stations in the tropics and is a reference and service center for all aspects of primate research. The DPZ is one of the 88 research and infrastructure institutes of the Leibniz Association in Germany.
http://www.dpz.eu - Homepage German Primate Center
http://www.dpz.eu/en/home/single-view/news/nervenzellen-mit-rhythmusgefuehl-1.ht... - Press release with further information
http://medien.dpz.eu/webgate/keyword.html?currentContainerId=3481 - Media library with prinable pictures
Dr. Susanne Diederich | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Warming ponds could accelerate climate change
21.02.2017 | University of Exeter
An alternative to opioids? Compound from marine snail is potent pain reliever
21.02.2017 | University of Utah
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences
21.02.2017 | Medical Engineering
21.02.2017 | Trade Fair News