Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Brain Signal Persists Even in Dreamless Sleep

02.10.2008
Neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have taken one of the first direct looks at one of the human brain's most fundamental "foundations": a brain signal that never switches off and may support many cognitive functions.

The results, appearing online this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are an important step forward for efforts to outline what neuroscientists call the functional architecture of the brain. Better understanding of this architecture will aid efforts to treat brain injury and mental disorders.

Although the brain's different specialized regions can be considered as a collection of physical structures, functional architecture instead focuses on metaphorical structures formed by brain processes and interactions among different brain regions. The "foundation" highlighted in the new study is a low-frequency signal created by neuronal activity throughout the brain. This signal doesn't switch off even in dreamless sleep, possibly to help maintain basic structure and facilitate offline housekeeping activities.

"A different, more labile and higher-frequency signal known as the gamma frequency activity has been the focus of much brain research in recent years," says first author Biyu He, a graduate student. "But we found that signal loses its large-scale structure in deep sleep, while the low-frequency signal does not, suggesting that the low-frequency signal may be more fundamental."

"What we've been finding is reorienting the way we think about how the brain works," says senior author Marcus Raichle, M.D., professor of radiology, of neurology and of neurobiology. "We're starting to see the brain as being in the prediction business, with ongoing, organized carrier frequencies within the systems of the brain that keep them prepared for the work they need to do to perform mental tasks."

Neurologists have already spent many years exploring the upper levels of the brain's functional architecture. In these studies, researchers typically ask volunteers to perform specific mental tasks as their brains are scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Such "goal-oriented" tasks might include looking for or studying a visual stimulus, moving an arm or leg, reading a word or listening for a sound. As the subjects perform these tasks, the scans reveal increases in blood flow to different parts of the brain, which researchers take as indications that the brain areas are contributing to the mental task.

In the past decade, though, scientists have realized that deeper structures underlie goal-oriented mental processes. These underlying brain processes continue to occur even when subjects aren't consciously using their brain to do anything, and the energies that the brain puts into them seem to be much greater than those used for goal-oriented tasks.

"The brain consumes a tremendous amount of the body's energy resources—it's only 2 percent of body weight, but it uses about 20 percent of the energy we take in," says Raichle. "When we started to ask where all those resources were being spent, we found that the goal-oriented tasks we had studied previously only accounted for a tiny portion of that energy budget. The rest appears to go into activities and processes that maintain a state of readiness in the brain."

To explore this deeper level of the brain's functional architecture, Raichle and others have been using fMRI to conduct detailed analyses of brain activity in subjects asked to do nothing. However, a nagging question has dogged those and other fMRI studies: Scientists assumed that increased blood flow to a part of the brain indicates that part has contributed to a mental task, but they wanted more direct evidence linking increased blood flow to stepped-up activity in brain cells.

In the new study, He and her colleagues took fMRI scans of five patients with intractable epilepsy at St. Louis Children's Hospital. The scans, during which the subjects did nothing, were taken prior to the temporary installation of grids of electrodes on the surfaces of the patients' brains. The level of detail provided by the grids is essential clinically for pinpointing the source of the seizures for possible surgical removal, a last resort employed only when other treatments failed.

Patients and their guardians gave permission to use the clinical data gathered from these electrodes for scientific research purposes. He's results confirmed that the fMRI data she had gathered earlier reflected changes in brain cell activity exhibited in the gamma frequency signal. But she also noticed the persistent low-frequency signal, which also corresponded to the fMRI data.

"When we looked back in the literature, we found that a similar signal had been the subject of a great deal of animal research using implanted electrodes in the 1960s through the 1980s," she says. "There were suggestions, for example, that when this low-frequency signal, which fluctuates persistently, is in a low trough, the brain may handle mental tasks more effectively."

"What we've shown provides a bridge between the fMRI work many scientists are doing now and the earlier work involving electrical recordings from the brain that emphasized slow activity," says He. "Bringing those two fields together may give us some very interesting insights into the brain’s organization and function."

He BJ, Snyder AZ, Zempel JM, Smyth MD, Raichle ME. Electrophysiological correlates of the brain's intrinsic large-scale functional architecture. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, online edition.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health supported this research.

Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Michael C. Purdy | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.wustl.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Penn vet research identifies new target for taming Ebola
12.01.2017 | University of Pennsylvania

nachricht The strange double life of Dab2
10.01.2017 | University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solar Collectors from Ultra-High Performance Concrete Combine Energy Efficiency and Aesthetics

16.01.2017 | Trade Fair News

3D scans for the automotive industry

16.01.2017 | Automotive Engineering

Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs

16.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>