Some University researchers from Carnegie Mellon have made the fascinating discovery that your brain has highly active neurons that behave much like people in social networks … and no thats not an indication that some of your neurons are pestering other neurons with Mafia wars or Farm ville requests (although thinking about it, looking at the way some folks behave, I just wonder about that).
No, in fact, what it actually means is that like Facebook, these neuronal networks inside your head have a small population of highly active members who give and receive more information than the majority of other members
Up to trillions of neurons make up the neocortex, the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for a number of important functions, including sensory perception, motor function, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language. Although neuroscientists have been studying the neocortex for 40 years, technologies had only allowed them to look broadly at general areas of the brain, but not at the high-resolution of individual neurons. While they believed only a small proportion of neurons were doing most of the work in the neocortex, they couldn’t see if this was indeed the case.
In the current study, published in the journal Neuron, the researchers used a specialized transgenic mouse model developed by Barth to overcome these challenges and clearly see which neocortical neurons were the most active. The model links green fluorescent protein (GFP) with the activity-dependent gene fos, causing the neuron to light up when it is activated. The researchers, including former Carnegie Mellon and CNBC postdoctoral student Lina Yassin, who is now at the Ludwig-Maximillians-Universtat Munich, took recordings from both fos-labeled and unlabeled neurons and found that the most active neurons were expressing the fos gene. The researchers were then able to isolate the active neurons using imaging techniques and take electrophysiological recordings from the neurons, allowing the researchers to begin to understand the mechanisms underlying the increased activity.
“It’s like Facebook. Most of your friends don’t post much — if at all. But, there is a small percentage of your friends on Facebook who update their status and page often. Those people are more likely to be connected to more friends, so while they’re sharing more information, they’re also receiving more information from their expanded network, which includes other more active participants”
This finding will have a huge impact on neuroscience. Now that researchers are able to identify these active cells they can start to determine why they are more active and how stable the activity is. The Carnegie Mellon researchers plan to further study to see what, if any, role these neurons play in learning.
The link to the published paper is here.