Researchers discover ‘mini-neural computer’ in the brain

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have discovered that dendrites, the branch-like projections of neurons, act as mini-neural computers by actively processing information to multiply the brain’s computing power.

They have shown that dendrites, which were thought to be passive wiring in the brain, do more than relay information from one neuron to the next.

What are the findings by the University of North Carolina?

Conventionally, axons are where neurons generate electrical spikes, but many of the same molecules that support axonal spikes are also present in the dendrites. Earlier research using dissected brain tissue had shown that dendrites can use those molecules to generate electrical spikes themselves, but it was unclear whether normal brain activity involved those dendritic spikes.

In the latest research, it has been found that dendrites effectively act as mini-neural computers, actively processing neuronal input signals themselves. In experiments on mice, when the animals viewed visual stimuli on a computer screen, the researchers saw an unusual pattern of electrical signals — bursts of spikes — in the dendrite. This uncovered that dendrites fired spikes while other parts of the neuron did not, meaning that the spikes were the result of local processing within the dendrites. This made the researchers conclude that dendrites are not passive integrators of sensory-driven input; they seem to be a computational unit as well.

How these findings may the researchers from the University of North Carolina may help?

The findings could not only change the long-standing scientific models explaining how neural circuitry functions in the brain, but could also help scientists to better understand neurological disorders.

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Categories: International Current Affairs 2017Science and Technology Current Affairs - 2017

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