Chinese scientists involved in new brain study
Neural science researchers at New York University (NYU) and the institute’s Shanghai campus have come up with a new theory on how the brain separates relevant and irrelevant information.
The findings were compiled in a paper titled A Dendritic Disinhibitory Circuit Mechanism for Pathway-specific Gating which was recently published in Nature Communications.
“It is critical to our everyday life that our brain processes the most important information out of everything presented to us. Within an extremely complicated neural circuit in the brain, there must be a gating mechanism to route relevant information to the right place at the right time,” explained Wang Xiaojing, global professor of Neural Science at NYU and NYU Shanghai, and the research paper’s senior author.
The research focuses on the inhibitory neurons, described as the brain’s “traffic police” who help ensure proper neurological responses to incoming stimuli by suppressing other neurons. These inhibitory neurons also help to balance excitatory neurons that stimulate neuronal activity.
“Our model uses a fundamental element of the brain circuit, involving multiple types of inhibitory neurons, to achieve this goal,” Wang added.
“Our computational model shows that inhibitory neurons can enable a neural circuit to gate in specific pathways of information while filtering out the rest.”
The research, led by Yang Guangyu, a doctoral candidate in Wang’s lab, involved creating a model that maps out a more complicated role for inhibitory neurons than had previously been suggested.
Of particular interest to the team was a specific subtype of inhibitory neurons that targets the excitatory neurons’ dendrites, which are the components of a neuron where inputs from other neurons are located.
These dendrite-targeting inhibitory neurons are labeled by a biological marker called somatostatin and can be studied selectively by experimentalists. The researchers proposed that they not only control the overall inputs to a neuron, but also the inputs from individual pathways.
“This was thought to be difficult because the connections from inhibitory neurons to excitatory neurons appeared dense and unstructured. Thus a surprising finding from our study is that the precision required for pathway-specific gating can be realized by inhibitory neurons,” said Yang.
The study’s authors used computational models to show that even with the seemingly random connections, these dendrite-targeting neurons can gate individual pathways by an alignment with excitatory inputs through different pathways. They showed that this alignment can be realized through synaptic plasticity — a brain mechanism for learning through experience.
Researchers have been studying how the brain separates relevant and irrelevant information.