New Theory of How the Brain’s Neurons Process Information

New research on how neurons respond to touch challenges existing neuroscience.

Posted May 01, 2019

geralt/Pixabay
Source: geralt/Pixabay

Ever wonder when you touch something, how the brain is able to know it? A generally accepted view embraced by neuroscientists is that different parts of the brain are responsible for certain functions, also known as the theory of functional specialization or localization. However, researchers from Lund University in Sweden have conducted a series of scientific studies that challenge the traditional view. Jonas Enander and Henrik Jörntell from Lund University published a research study in Cell Reports on March 26, 2019, that unveils how the brain’s neuronal network processes information.

In the research, the team recorded the extracellular spikes of 89 neurons in anesthetized rats to study their response to having various digits in their paws stimulated. The neurons in the primary somatosensory cortex, located behind the central sulcus in the brain, is the area of the brain believed to be where information is processed when the skin is touched.

The team wrote in their paper that “the temporal patterns in the spike output of individual neurons of the somatosensory cortex can signal tactile quality, as encoded in the spatiotemporal tactile input patterns, from non-adjacent digits,” and “individual neurons could also signal which of the digits the input originated from.”

From this data, the researchers concluded that the output of each neuron “potentially contains information of both the 'what' and the 'where' components of tactile inputs for two non-adjacent digits,” regardless of the layer location. The team showed that the “neuronal decoding properties were uniform throughout the cortical layers.”

After monitoring the individual neuron’s activity levels, the researchers discovered that functions are more broadly processed by the entire brain, rather than just a specific area. The researchers explain that information is processed as if through one network, and that each individual neuron, depending on the situation, participates in many different functions.

The Lund researchers wrote in the study that their findings have “major implications for current models of cortical processing of tactile inputs that focus on local, functional specialization.” This discovery may provide a basis for novel methods of treating brain injuries by training the brain to create new integrated bundles of neurons in the future.

Copyright © 2019 Cami Rosso All rights reserved.

References

Enander, Jonas, Jörntell, Henrik. “Somatosensory Cortical Neurons Decode Tactile Input Patterns and Location from Both Dominant and Non-dominant Digits.” Cell Reports. March 26, 2019.

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