A team led by University of California San Diego neurobiologists has developed a new approach to interpreting brain electroencephalograms, or EEGs, that provides an unprecedented view of thought in action and has the potential to advance our understanding of disorders like epilepsy and autism.
Image of the brain with colored spheres indicating clusters of activity
Photo Credit: Scott Makeig
The new information processing and visualization methods that make it possible to follow activation in different areas of the brain dynamically are detailed in a paper featured on the cover of the June 15 issue of the journal Public Library of Science Biology (plos.org) The significance of the advance is that thought processes occur on the order of milliseconds—thousandths of a second—but current brain imaging techniques, such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and traditional EEGs, are averaged over seconds. This provides a “blurry” picture of how the neural circuits in the brain are activated, just as a picture of waves breaking on the shore would be a blur if it were created from the average of multiple snapshots.
“Our paper is the culmination of eight years of work to find a new way to parse EEG data and identify the individual signals coming from different areas of the brain,” says lead author Scott Makeig, a research scientist in UCSD’s Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience of the Institute for Neural Computation. “This much more comprehensive view of brain dynamics was only made possible by exploiting recent advances in mathematics and increases in computing power. We expect many clinical applications to flow from the method and have begun collaborations to study patients with epilepsy and autism.”
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