Studying Signal Processing in the Brain
July 4, 2011
School of Biotechnology, Amritapuri
Studies by Amrita Computational Neuroscience faculty, Dr. Shyam Diwakar, performed in collaboration with the University of Pavia and University of Milan researchers are investigating how signals are processed in the brain.
PLoS One, a high impact factor journal recently published their collaborative paper, Local field potential modeling predicts dense activation in cerebellar granule cells clusters under LTP and LTD control.
In the paper, Amrita’s Dr. Shyam together with Dr. Paola Lombardo, Dr. Sergio Solinas and Prof. Egidio D’Angelo of the University of Pavia and Prof. Giovanni Naldi of the University of Milan, detailed the modeling of extracellular signals seen and processed in the brain.
Given below is an exciting account of the research work in Dr. Shyam’s words.
What is it about the cerebellum that researchers find so fascinating? The brain is filled with intricate neuronal circuits, but the relatively simple, precise and geometrically exquisite circuits of the cerebellum are particularly intriguing.
Those of us who study the brain, believe that the cerebellum regulates not only motor control, but also higher-level cognitive functions as well.
Repetition of a particular pattern of thought enables us to learn the pattern and reproduce it intuitively, without conscious effort, just as we learn to execute patterns of movement without knowing in detail the motor control mechanisms involved.
Many important cognitive functions, including language, intuition and inspiration, can be attributed in this way to the learning capabilities of the cerebellum.
This suggests the possibility of a common mechanism underlying both motor control in the physical domain, and manipulation of knowledge in the mental domain.
The implications of discovering such a mechanism would be profound, touching on a fundamental proposition in science dating back to the time of Descartes, which states that our physical brain embodies the conscious mind.
The cerebellum thus holds the key to one of the innermost secrets in science, and one of the greatest mysteries of the brain.
In our study, the whiskers of an anaesthetized rat were stimulated with air puffs while cerebellar activity was monitored and reconstructed using mathematical computer simulations.
Air puffs served as stimuli or inputs to generate sensory patterns in the otherwise silent brain of the anaesthetized rat. A particular response was generated in certain neurons allowing us to study the function of such neurons. We were able to show that single neurons play a direct role in cerebellar learning.
Learning as a function of the cerebellum is not at all well-known. People have been trying to determine the possible mechanism by which this part of the brain modifies behaviour based on learning. Our study showed a possible explanation by computer simulations and validations through real experiments.
Future applications of this study could be useful in bioencryption, robotics and analysis of brain images. In addition, further clinical research may produce applications in the treatment of epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.