summary: The scientists put forward a hypothesis dubbed “cell-electrical coupling” that electric fields within the brain can manipulate components of neuron subunits, improving network stability and efficiency. They suggest that these domains allow neurons to tune the information-processing network down to the molecular level.
Relatively speaking, the process is similar to families arranging their TV setup for the perfect viewing experience. The theory, which is open to testing, could greatly advance our understanding of the brain’s inner workings.
- The Cytoelectric Coupling Hypothesis suggests that the brain’s electric fields can adjust network stability and efficiency by influencing sub-neuron components.
- The brain’s ability to adapt to a changing world involves proteins and molecules that interact with electric fields generated by neurons.
- This new theory, which proposes a microscopic-to-microscopic level connection in the brain, is a testable hypothesis that could revolutionize our understanding of brain functioning.
source: Piccoer Institute for Learning and Memory
To produce its many functions, including thought, the brain operates on many levels. Information such as targets or images is represented by coordinated electrical activity between networks of neurons, while in and around each neuron a cocktail of proteins and other chemicals actually carry out the mechanisms involved in the network.
A new paper by researchers at MIT, City University – University of London, and Johns Hopkins University posits that network electric fields influence the physical configuration of subcellular components of neurons to improve network stability and efficiency, a hypothesis the authors call “cellular electrical coupling.”
Earl K. said: Miller, the Picower Professor in the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT, who co-authored the paper in Advances in neuroscience With Assistant Professor Dimitris Pinoutsis of MIT and City University – University of London, and Professor Jane Friedman of Johns Hopkins.
“The brain is adapting to a changing world,” said Benoutsis. “Proteins and molecules also change. They can have electrical charges and need to catch up with neurons that process, store and transmit information using electrical signals. Interaction with neurons’ electric fields appears to be essential.”
Thinking in domains
Miller’s lab mainly focuses on studying how higher-level cognitive functions such as working memory can emerge quickly, flexibly, and yet reliably from the activity of millions of individual neurons.
Neurons are able to dynamically shape circuits by creating and removing connections called synapses, as well as strengthening or weakening those connections. But Miller said this is just a “road map” around which information can flow.
Miller found that specific neural circuits that collectively represent one thought or another are coordinated by rhythmic activity, colloquially known as “brain waves” of different frequencies.
Fast “gamma” rhythms help transmit images from our vision (eg, a donut), while slower “beta” waves may carry deeper thoughts about that image, (eg, “too many calories”).
Miller’s lab has shown that well-timed bursts of these waves can carry predictions and enable the writing, holding and reading of information into working memory. It gets stuck when working memory does too.
The lab reported evidence that the brain may explicitly manipulate rhythms at specific physical locations to further regulate neurons for fluid cognition, a concept called “spatial computation.”
Recent work from the lab has shown that while the participation of individual neurons within networks may be fickle and unreliable, the information carried by the networks of which they are a part is invariably represented by the aggregate electric fields generated by their collective activity.
Cellular electrical coupling
In the new study, the authors combined this model of the rhythmic electrical activity orchestrating neural networks with other lines of evidence that electric fields can influence neurons at the molecular level.
Researchers have studied, for example, adhesive coupling, in which neurons influence each other’s electrical properties through the proximity of their membranes, rather than relying solely on electrochemical exchanges across synapses. This electrical crosstalk can affect neural functions including when and whether they fire to transmit electrical signals to other neurons in the circuit.
Miller, Benoutsis, and Friedman also cite research showing other electrical effects on cells and their components including how neural development is directed by fields and that microtubules can align with them.
If the brain carries information in electric fields and those electric fields are able to create neurons and other elements in the brain that form a network, then the brain is more likely to use that ability. The authors suggest that the brain can use fields to ensure the network does what it is supposed to do.
To put it (loosely) in potato terms, network television’s success isn’t just about its ability to send a clear signal to millions of homes. Also important are the tiny details like the way each home arranges the TV display, sound system, and living room furniture to maximize the experience.
The presence of the network both in this metaphor and in the brain motivates individual participants to configure their infrastructure to engage optimally, Miller said.
“Cytoelectric coupling connects information at the mesoscale and macroscopic level down to the microscopic level of proteins that form the molecular basis of memory,” the authors wrote in the paper.
The article outlines the inspiring reasoning for photovoltaic coupling. “We provide a hypothesis that anyone can test,” Miller said.
Funding: Support for the research came from the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI), the US Office of Naval Research, the JPB Foundation, and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
About this research in Neuroscience News
author: David Orenstein
source: Piccoer Institute for Learning and Memory
communication: David Orenstein – Picquer Institute for Learning and Memory
picture: Image credited to Neuroscience News
Original search: open access.
“Cytoelectric Coupling: Electric fields sculpt neural activity and “tune” the infrastructure of the brainBy Earl K. Miller et al. Advances in neuroscience
Cytoelectric Coupling: Electric fields sculpt neural activity and “tune” the infrastructure of the brain
We propose and provide converging evidence for the cytoelectric coupling hypothesis: electric fields generated by neurons are causal down to the cytoskeletal level.
This can be accomplished by electrical diffusion, mechanical transport, and exchanges between electrical, potential, and chemical energy. Ephaptic coupling regulates neuronal activity, forming neuronal clusters at the macro level.
This information propagates up to the level of neurons, affecting elevations, and down to the molecular level to stabilize the cytoskeleton, “tuning” it to process information more efficiently.
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