A step toward cracking the code of how brains work
Whether we’re paying attention to something we see can be discerned by monitoring the firings of specific groups of brain cells. Now, new work from Johns Hopkins shows that the same holds true for the sense of touch. The study brings researchers closer to understanding how animals’ thoughts and feelings affect their perception of external stimuli.
The results were published Nov. 25 in the journal PLoS Biology.
“There is so much information available in the world that we cannot process it all,” says Ernst Niebur, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Many researchers believe the brain copes with this by immediately throwing away most of what we take in — that’s called selective attention. But we need to be certain that what is thrown away is really the irrelevant part. We investigated how our neurons do that.”
Niebur, a computational biologist, worked with Steven Hsiao, Ph.D., a professor of neurosciencein Johns Hopkins’ Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, who died in June, on the study. Hsiao’s assistant research scientist, Manuel Gomez-Ramirez, Ph.D., trained three rhesus monkeys to pay attention to either the orientation (vertical or horizontal) or the vibration rate (fast or slow) of a pencil-shaped object using their sense of touch. The monkeys learned to move their gaze to a location on a monitor screen corresponding to the right answer and were rewarded with drops of juice or water.
Gomez-Ramirez then monitored the activity of groups of neurons and figure out which were in charge of perceiving which property. When the monkeys were paying attention to the object’s orientation, he found, the neurons for that property fired more rapidly, and more synchronously, than did neurons for the vibration rate. That much was consistent with previous studies on selective attention in vision.
In addition, the research team found, the firing rate of the neurons for the property, and how much they synced up, predicted how well the monkey did on the task — whether it at to the correct location on the monitor. But synchronization was more important to performance than was firing rate.
The results are a step toward “cracking the neural code,” he says, an ambitious goal for which his research group continues to strive. “We’re looking for the neural code of internal thought processes,” he says. “It’s a very fundamental question.”
Other authors on the paper are Natalie K. Trzcinski of The Johns Hopkins University and Stefan Mihalas, formerly of The Johns Hopkins University and now of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (grant numbers R01NS34086 and R01NS18787), the National Eye Institute (grant number R01EY016281) and the Office of Naval Research’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives Program (grant number N000141010278).
Shawna Williams | newswise
Hunting pathogens at full force
22.03.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
A 155 carat diamond with 92 mm diameter
22.03.2017 | Universität Augsburg
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences