Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The brain’s social network: Nerve cells interact like friends on Facebook

05.02.2015

Neurons in the brain are wired like a social network, report researchers from Biozentrum, University of Basel. Each nerve cell has links with many others, but the strongest bonds form between the few cells most similar to each other. The results are published in the journal Nature.

Nerve cells form a bewildering meshwork of connections called synapses – up to several thousand per cell. Yet not all synaptic connections are equal. The overwhelming majority of connections are weak, and cells make only very few strong links.


A neural network is like a social network: The strongest bonds exist between like-minded partners.

“We wanted to see if there are rules that explain how neurons connect in complex networks comprising millions of neurons,” says Professor Thomas Mrsic-Flogel, the leader of the research team from the Biozentrum (University of Basel) and UCL (University College London). “It turns out that one of the rules is quite simple. Like-minded neurons are strongly coupled, while neurons that behave very differently from each other connect weakly or not at all.”

Strong connections between close friends

The researchers focused on the visual area of the cerebral cortex, which receives information from the eye and gives rise to visual perception. Neurons in this part of the brain respond to particular visual patterns, but it is difficult to untangle which cells are synaptically connected because there are many thousands of them densely packed (close to 100.000 per cubic millimeter).

Using a combination of high resolution imaging and sensitive electrical measurements, the researchers found that connections between nearby neurons are organized like a social network. Sites like Facebook keep us in contact with large numbers of acquaintances, but most people have a much smaller circle of close friends. These are usually the friends with which we have most in common, and their opinions can be more important to us than the views of the rest.

"Weak contacts in the brain have little impact, despite being in the majority," says Mrsic-Flogel. “The few strong connections from neurons with similar functions exert the strongest influence on the activity of their partners. This could help them work together to amplify specific information from the outside world.”

Weak connections could be important for learning

But why do neurons share such large numbers of weak connections? “We think this might have to do with learning,” says Dr Lee Cossell, one of the lead authors of the study. “If neurons need to change their behavior, weak connections are already in place to be strengthened, perhaps ensuring rapid plasticity in the brain.” As a result, the brain could quickly adapt to changes in the environment.

This research is part of worldwide effort to shed light on how the brain generates perceptions, thoughts and actions by mapping the brain’s wiring diagram. “It reveals how networks of neurons interact together to process information. Understanding how neurons connect will pave the way for building detailed computer simulations of the brain,” says Mrsic-Flogel.

Research that explores how neurons connect will also be important for understanding neurological diseases. “If we know what the pattern of connections in the brain should look like, then we can start to figure out what happens when things go wrong, for example, in schizophrenia or autism,” adds Mrsic-Flogel.

Original source
Lee Cossell, Maria Florencia Iacaruso, Dylan R. Muir, Rachael Houlton, Elie N. Sader, Ho Ko, Sonja B. Hofer, Thomas D. Mrsic-Flogel
Functional organization of excitatory synaptic strength in primary visual cortex.
Nature, published online 4 February 2015.

Further information
Thomas D. Mrsic-Flogel, Department Biozentrum, University of Basel, Tel. +41 61 267 17 66, email: thomas.mrsic-flogel@unibas.ch

Heike Sacher | Universität Basel
Further information:
http://www.unibas.ch

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells
12.12.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Smelling the forest – not the trees
12.12.2018 | Universität Konstanz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

New discoveries predict ability to forecast dementia from single molecule

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

CCNY-Yale researchers make shape shifting cell breakthrough

12.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Pain: Perception and motor impulses arise in the brain independently of one another

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>