Chi­nese sci­en­tists in­volved in new brain study

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

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.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Re­searchers have been study­ing how the brain sep­a­rates rel­e­vant and ir­rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion.

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