Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fascinating rhythm: The brain's 'slow waves'

18.04.2013
Scientists probe the source of a pulsing signal in the sleeping brain

New findings clarify where and how the brain's "slow waves" originate. These rhythmic signal pulses, which sweep through the brain during deep sleep at the rate of about one cycle per second, are assumed to play a role in processes such as consolidation of memory.

For the first time, researchers have shown conclusively that slow waves start in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for cognitive functions. They also found that such a wave can be set in motion by a tiny cluster of neurons.

"The brain is a rhythm machine, producing all kinds of rhythms all the time," says Prof. Arthur Konnerth of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM). "These are clocks that help to keep many parts of the brain on the same page." One such timekeeper produces the so-called slow waves of deep sleep, which are thought to be involved in transmuting fragments of a day's experience and learning into lasting memory. They can be observed in very early stages of development, and they may be disrupted in diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Previous studies, relying mainly on electrical measurements, have lacked the spatial resolution to map the initiation and propagation of slow waves precisely. But using light, Konnerth's Munich-based team – in collaboration with researchers at Stanford and the University of Mainz – could both stimulate slow waves and observe them in unprecedented detail. One key result confirmed that the slow waves originate only in the cortex, ruling out other long-standing hypotheses. "The second major finding," Konnerth says, "was that out of the billions of cells in the brain, it takes not more than a local cluster of fifty to one hundred neurons in a deep layer of the cortex, called layer 5, to make a wave that extends over the entire brain."

New light on a fundamental neural mechanism

Despite considerable investigation of the brain's slow waves, definitive answers about the underlying circuit mechanism have remained elusive. Where is the pacemaker for this rhythm? Where do the waves start, and where do they stop? This study – based on optical probing of intact brains of live mice under anesthesia – now provides the basis for a detailed, comprehensive view.

"We implemented an optogenetic approach combined with optical detection of neuronal activity to explore causal features of these slow oscillations, or Up-Down state transitions, that represent the dominating network rhythm in sleep," explains Prof. Albrecht Stroh of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Optogenetics is a novel technique that enabled the researchers to insert light-sensitive channels into specific kinds of neurons, to make them responsive to light stimulation. This allowed for selective and spatially defined stimulation of small numbers of cortical and thalamic neurons.

Access to the brain via optical fibers allowed for both microscopic recording and direct stimulation of neurons. Flashes of light near the mouse's eyes were also used to stimulate neurons in the visual cortex. By recording the flux of calcium ions, a chemical signal that can serve as a more spatially precise readout of the electric activity, the researchers made the slow waves visible. They also correlated optical recordings with more conventional electrical measurements. As a result, it was possible to watch individual wave fronts spread – like ripples from a rock thrown into a quiet lake – first through the cortex and then through other brain structures.

A new picture begins to emerge: Not only is it possible for a tiny local cluster of neurons to initiate a slow wave that will spread far and wide, recruiting multiple regions of the brain into a single event – this appears to be typical. "In spontaneous conditions," Konnerth says, "as it happens with you and me and everyone else every night in deep sleep, every part of the cortex can be an initiation site." Furthermore, a surprisingly simple communication protocol can be seen in the slow wave rhythm. During each one-second cycle a single neuron cluster sends its signal and all others are silenced, as if they are taking turns bathing the brain in fragments of experience or learning, building blocks of memory. The researchers view these findings as a step toward a better understanding of learning and memory formation, a topic Konnerth's group is investigating with funding from the European Research Council. They also are testing how the slow waves behave during disease.

This research was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through IRTG 1373, the TUM Institute for Advanced Study, and the Excellence Cluster SyNergy (Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology); the Friedrich Schiedel Foundation; and the European Commission (Project Corticonic, under the 7th Framework Program).

Publication:

Making Waves: Initiation and Propagation of Corticothalamic Ca2+ Waves In Vivo Albrecht Stroh, Helmuth Adelsberger, Alexander Groh, Charlotta Ruehlmann, Sebastian Fischer, Anja Schierloh, Karl Deisseroth, and Arthur Konnerth.

Neuron 77, 1136-1150, March 20, 2013,
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2013.01.031
Contact:
Prof. Arthur Konnerth
Institute of Neuroscience
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
T: +49 (0)89 4140 3351
E: arthur.konnerth@lrz.tu-muenchen.de
W: http://www.ifn.me.tum.de/new/
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) is one of Europe's leading universities. It has roughly 500 professors, 9,000 academic and non-academic staff, and 32,000 students. It focuses on the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences, medicine, and economic sciences. After winning numerous awards, it was selected as an "Excellence University" in 2006 and 2012 by the Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). In both international and national rankings, TUM is rated as one of Germany's top universities and is dedicated to the ideal of a top-level research-oriented entrepreneurial university. The university's global presence includes offices in Beijing (China), Brussels (Belgium), Cairo (Egypt), Mumbai (India) and São Paulo (Brazil). The German Institute of Science and Technology (GIST - TUM Asia), founded in 2002 in Singapore, is the first research campus of a German university abroad.

Patrick Regan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.tum.de

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Investigators may unlock mystery of how staph cells dodge the body's immune system
22.09.2017 | Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

nachricht Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?
21.09.2017 | Boston Children's Hospital

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: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>