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27 November 2013 12:59 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
Science has exposed a thriving academic black market in China involving shady agencies, corrupt scientists, and...
Paper-selling agencies flourish in the aura of reputable businesses. For some scientists, it may be difficult to tell...
The new head of the National Center for Science Education promises to "fight the good fight" against attacks on...
Analyses of the H7N9 strains isolated from four new cases show that the virus is evolving rapidly, heightening anxiety...
In 2009, Jack Szostak shared a Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the role of telomeres, the end bits of...
Featuring the first lunar rover in 40 years, Chang'e-3 is seen as an important milestone on China's quest to send a...
Data collected by satellites and floating probes have chronicled a 2-decade rise in the temperature and thickness of a...
Cholesterol, the artery-clogging molecule that contributes to cardiovascular disease, has another nasty trick up its...
- 27 November 2013 12:59 pm , Vol. 342 , #6162
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Synchronizing the Brain's Signals
22 June 2001 7:00 pm
Sometimes neurons get so excited that they sing in harmony. Researchers aren't sure just how these brain cells synchronize their firing, but a new study shows that one type of neuron might have the abilities necessary for orchestrating the performance.
Synchronized neural firing has long excited neuroscientists, but they aren't sure what it means. Some have suggested that it allows the brain to perform sophisticated computations over disparate regions of the brain. For instance, watching a red caboose rattle down a railroad track activates color-, shape-, and motion-sensitive parts of the brain; perhaps synchronous firing across these regions tells the brain to unite these features into one image. But the theory still has a lot of holes in it. For starters: How do neurons determine that two or more signals have arrived at the same time?
Now, neuroscientists Mario Galarreta and Shaul Hestrin of Stanford University may have provided a partial answer. In the 22 June issue of Science, they report that a type of neuron called a fast-spiking cell could play a central role in detecting synchrony in the brain. They teased interconnected pairs of these cells out of a slice of rat brain and artificially stimulated each one. When inputs to two cells were 5 milliseconds apart, the cells were less likely to fire than if just one cell had been activated. But if both cells were stimulated within 1 millisecond of each other, they fired strongest.
The new study "offers a system that's exquisitely sensitive to timing," says neuroscientist Barry Connors of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and therefore it's "plausible" that networks of fast-spiking cells could detect and pass along synchronized signals.