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Landmark study on neural circuits shows that “cells that fire together wire together,” refining the popular “Use it or lose it”

– A net­work of neu­rons recon­struct­ed with large-scale elec­tron microscopy. Cred­it: Clay Reid, Allen Insti­tute; Wei-Chung Lee, Har­vard Med­ical School; Sam Inger­soll, graph­ic artist.

Research on largest net­work of cor­ti­cal neu­rons to date pro­filed (Med­ical Xpress):

Even the sim­plest net­works of neu­rons in the brain are com­posed of mil­lions of con­nec­tions, and exam­in­ing these vast net­works is crit­i­cal to under­stand­ing how the brain works. An inter­na­tion­al team of researchers, led by R. Clay Reid, Wei Chung Allen Lee and Vin­cent Bonin from the Allen Insti­tute for Brain Sci­ence, Har­vard Med­ical School and Neu­ro-Elec­tron­ics Research Flan­ders (NERF), respec­tive­ly, has pub­lished the largest net­work to date of con­nec­tions between neu­rons in the cor­tex, where high-lev­el pro­cess­ing occurs, and have revealed sev­er­al cru­cial ele­ments of how net­works in the brain are orga­nized.

For decades, researchers have stud­ied brain activ­i­ty and wiring in iso­la­tion, unable to link the two,” says Vin­cent Bonin, Prin­ci­pal Inves­ti­ga­tor at Neu­ro-Elec­tron­ics Research Flan­ders. “What we have achieved is to bridge these two realms with unprece­dent­ed detail, link­ing elec­tri­cal activ­i­ty in neu­rons with the nanoscale synap­tic con­nec­tions they make with one anoth­er.”

Ana­lyz­ing this wealth of data yield­ed sev­er­al results, includ­ing the first direct struc­tur­al evi­dence to sup­port the idea that neu­rons that do sim­i­lar tasks are more like­ly to be con­nect­ed to each oth­er than neu­rons that car­ry out dif­fer­ent tasks. Fur­ther­more, those con­nec­tions are larg­er, despite the fact that they are tan­gled with many oth­er neu­rons that per­form entire­ly dif­fer­ent func­tions.” (bold­ed by edi­tor)

Study: Anato­my and func­tion of an exci­ta­to­ry net­work in the visu­al cor­tex (Nature)

  • Abstract: Cir­cuits in the cere­bral cor­tex con­sist of thou­sands of neu­rons con­nect­ed by mil­lions of synaps­es. A pre­cise under­stand­ing of these local net­works requires relat­ing cir­cuit activ­i­ty with the under­ly­ing net­work struc­ture. …we found that pyra­mi­dal neu­rons with sim­i­lar ori­en­ta­tion selec­tiv­i­ty pref­er­en­tial­ly formed synaps­es with each oth­er, despite the fact that axons and den­drites of all ori­en­ta­tion selec­tiv­i­ties pass near each oth­er with rough­ly equal prob­a­bil­i­ty. There­fore, we pre­dict that mech­a­nisms of func­tion­al­ly spe­cif­ic con­nec­tiv­i­ty take place at the length scale of spines. Neu­rons with sim­i­lar ori­en­ta­tion tun­ing formed larg­er synaps­es, poten­tial­ly enhanc­ing the net effect of synap­tic speci­fici­ty. With the abil­i­ty to study thou­sands of con­nec­tions in a sin­gle cir­cuit, func­tion­al con­nec­tomics is prov­ing a pow­er­ful method to uncov­er the orga­ni­za­tion­al log­ic of cor­ti­cal net­works.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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