A study by Newcastle University, UK, and the International University Bremen, Germany, debunked a prevailing theory that the nervous system should have mainly very short nerve fibre connections between nerve cells, or neurons, to function at its most effective.
Instead the study, which carried out a sophisticated computer analysis of public databases containing detailed information of worldwide anatomical studies on primate and worm brains, found that long nerve fibre connections were just as vital to overall brain function as short ones.
Much of what we know about the human brain derives from neuroscience research on primates, which are used because they have have experienced similar evolutionary stages to humans.
Brain scans of Alzheimer’s patients and people with autism have shown that they are lacking certain long-distance neural interactions, although experts have yet to discover their specific purpose.
The new study, published in the academic journal PLoS Computational Biology, found that long fibres are important because they can send messages quickly over a longer distance compared with if the same message was sent over the same distance via lots of short fibres. It also found that long fibres are more reliable for transmission of messages over longer distances.
“You can draw parallels with a train journey from Newcastle to London,” said lead researcher, Dr Marcus Kaiser, of Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science and the University’s Institute of Neuroscience.
“For example, you would get to London much more quickly and easily if you took a direct train there. However, if you had to make the journey via Durham, Leeds and Stevenage, changing trains each time, then it will take you longer to get there, and there is the possibility you would miss a connection at some point. It’s the same in the human brain.”
The computer programme, run over several days, took information about the length of nerve fibres in the primate brain and neuronal connections called axons in the brain of a species of worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. It then tested if the total length of fibres could be reduced, by testing billions of different position arrangements. Indeed, wiring lengths could be reduced by up to 50% owing to the fact that neural systems have surprisingly many long-distance connections.
Co-researcher Dr Claus Hilgetag, an associate professor with International University Bremen’s School of Engineering and Science, said: “Many people have suggested that the brain is like a computer and that for optimum effectiveness it should have mainly short connections between the nerve cells. Our research suggests that a combination of different lengths of neural projections is essential.
“It is particularly interesting that we made the same observations in both the primate and the worm as their brains are very different in terms of shape and size.”
Although it is too early for the research to have direct clinical applications, the researchers suggest that it may eventually contribute towards insights into the diagnosis and possibly the treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s and autism if more information about neural networks - and specifically what the long and short nerve fibres do in the brain - is garnered.
One potential development could be a predictive test for the conditions, which examines and analyses a patient’s brain organisation, aiding diagnosis and possibly showing how the condition may develop over the coming years.
The study is the most comprehensive yet to look at the spatial organisation of the nervous system in primates and worms.
Claire Jordan | alfa
GLUT5 fluorescent probe fingerprints cancer cells
20.04.2018 | Michigan Technological University
Scientists re-create brain neurons to study obesity and personalize treatment
20.04.2018 | Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.
Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...
Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.
Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
25.04.2018 | Information Technology