New UC Berkeley study paves the way for treating brain rhythm disorders
Like Duke Ellington's 1931 jazz standard, the human brain improvises while its rhythm section keeps up a steady beat. But when it comes to taking on intellectually challenging tasks, groups of neurons tune in to one another for a fraction of a second and harmonize, then go back to improvising, according to new research led by UC Berkeley.
These findings, reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could pave the way for more targeted treatments for people with brain disorders marked by fast, slow or chaotic brain waves, also known as neural oscillations.
Tracking the changing rhythms of the healthy human brain at work advances our understanding of such disorders as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and even autism, which are characterized in part by offbeat brain rhythms. In jazz lingo, for example, bands of neurons in certain mental illnesses may be malfunctioning because they're tuning in to blue notes, or playing double time or half time.
"The human brain has 86 billion or so neurons all trying to talk to each other in this incredibly messy, noisy and electrochemical soup," said study lead author Bradley Voytek. "Our results help explain the mechanism for how brain networks quickly come together and break apart as needed."
Voytek and fellow researchers at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute measured electrical activity in the brains of cognitively healthy epilepsy patients. They found that, as the mental exercises became more demanding, theta waves at 4-8 Hertz or cycles per second synchronized within the brain's frontal lobe, enabling it to connect with other brain regions, such as the motor cortex.
"In these brief moments of synchronization, quick communication occurs as the neurons between brain regions lock into these frequencies, and this measure is critical in a variety of disorders," said Voytek, an assistant professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego who conducted the study as a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
Previous experiments on animals have shown how brain waves control brain activity. This latest study is among the first to use electrocorticography - which places electrodes directly on the exposed surface of the brain - to measure neural oscillations as people perform cognitively challenging tasks and show how these rhythms control communication between brain regions.
There are five types of brain wave frequencies - Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta - and each are thought to play a different role. For example, Theta waves help coordinate neurons as we move around our environment, and thus are key to processing spatial information.
In people with autism, the connection between Alpha waves and neural activity has been found to weaken when they process emotional images. Meanwhile, people with Parkinson's disease show abnormally strong Beta waves in the motor cortex. This locks neurons into the wrong groove and inhibits movement. Fortunately, electrical deep brain stimulation can disrupt abnormally strong Beta waves in Parkinson's and alleviate symptoms, Voytek said.
For the study, epilepsy patients viewed shapes of increasing complexity on a computer screen and were tasked with using different fingers (index or middle) to push a button depending on the shape, color or texture of the shape. The exercise started out simply with participants hitting the button with, say, an index finger each time a square flashed on the screen. But it grew progressively more difficult as the shapes became more layered with colors and textures, and their fingers had to keep up.
As the tasks became more demanding, the oscillations kept up, coordinating more parts of the frontal lobe and synchronizing the information passing between those brain regions.
"The results revealed a delicate coordination in the brain's code," Voytek said. "Our neural orchestra may need no conductor, just brain waves sweeping through to briefly excite neurons, like millions of fans in a stadium doing 'The Wave.'"
Other co-authors and researchers on the study are Mark D'Esposito, Robert Knight and David Fegen at UC Berkeley, David Badre at Brown University, Andrew Kayser at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Martinez, Calif., Edward Chang at UCSF, Nathan Crone at Johns Hopkins University and Joseph Parvizi at Stanford University.
Yasmin Anwar | EurekAlert!
NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology
07.12.2016 | Nanyang Technological University
How to turn white fat brown
07.12.2016 | University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine