Neuron News

Googling with Neurons

Google’s algorithms somehow know how to find needles in haystacks. Cyberspace is gigantic and it seems to only take milliseconds to find any little random tidbit of information you might be looking for. In fact, this search finds 378,000 results in 0.20 seconds or less [supercalifragilisticexpialidocious].

Just like the Internet, the brain is a very complicated network. Although the brain is still quite poorly understood, it is very probably that it is significantly more complex than the Internet network of today. Google contains a detailed and efficient map of the Internet, which allows it to quickly zip you along the pathways to your desired destination.

The brain, on the other hand, has a network that might not be so efficient… but it works and works pretty well for our environment. In particular, we store many memories over our lifetime, but we don’t have a font-and-center realization of each and every memory and every point in time. We are able to access certain memories when needed, although we certainly find that having special cues can help bring about certain memories on command.

So, maybe Google could invest in a neuroprosthetic computer chip hat first maps the neural connections in our brain and then takes cues to help us retrieve specific memory information when needed.

The network mapping process is certainly not trivial. Research in this area is vital, and is the key component to furthering the understanding of brain function. But, once the map is known, then Google-type algorithms might be particularly useful for traveling the network’s paths to find information we need … in milliseconds.

Gary Marcus, professor of psychology at New York University, wrote a very interesting review in The New York Times that further explores this idea…

“Total Recall” by Gary Marcus :: The New York Times Idea Lab :: April 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Neural Network Mapping with Diffusion Imaging

The brain is a network. It is not just a lump of neurons. It’s function and capabilities are entirely based on its structural characteristics as a network.

For neurotechnologies to be ultimately successful, a deep understanding of brain function will be required … in other words, to connect into the brain we must understand the brain. And, this understanding requires a complete realization of the network structure that develops from a lump of neurons.

Recently published in PLoS Biology, is exciting research using a new method of brain imaging called diffusion imaging. This method uses magnetic resonance to monitor the movement of water molecules along the neuronal axons that are interconnected throughout the brain. This level of detail of a network map in a living brain has never been achieved before, and this initial work is just a first draft of low-resolution mapping.

Already in these low-res maps, intricate and even familiar structure is being discovered … network structure that is also seen in other forms of complex networks, including the Internet. The main discovery is of a primary node that is super-connected to many other nodes located in the posterior medial and parietal cerebral cortex; i.e., the back of the head.

This is extremely critical work and very exciting. Remember, it’s all about the network structure. This author is currently reviewing the published article, and will be updating Neuron News will an additional review soon.

“First Detailed Map of the Human Cortex” :: MIT Technology Review :: July 7, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Read the PLoS Synopsis
“From Structure to Function: Mapping the Connection Matrix of the Human Brain”
Gross L
PLoS Biology Vol. 6, No. 7, e164 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060164

Mapping the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex
Hagmann P, Cammoun L, Gigandet X, Meuli R, Honey CJ, et al.
PLoS Biology Vol. 6, No. 7, e159 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060159

Billions of Transistors Don’t Match Billions of Neurons

Q: What do you get when you interconnect billions and billions of transistors?

A: A whole lot of ON/OFF switches.

The brain is a ridiculously complicated network of electrochemically active cells (a.k.a. neurons), which are individually influenced by a large number of greatly complicated chemical machines (a.k.a. synapses), which are in turn individually activated by more particular chemicals and hormones, and even further influenced by microscopic structures which are coupled at the quantum level.

This is not the hierarchy of your typical computing machine. Technologists have long anticipated the future of vast computer networks–built upon the electrical transistor–that pass some unknown critical point of interconnections and become “conscious”. Welcome Hal.

Neurobiologists have long been frustrated by this expectation because the level of complexity of the brain as a whole and the level of complexity of its individual parts no where matches that of the computer chip. In fact, this expectation is still so unreasonable because of the remaining immense lack of understanding of how the brain works as a sum of all of its parts to generate the emergent behavior we experience every moment of our lives.

Lee Gomes of provides us with a nice reminder of how far we really still have to go to fully understand the brain… but, it is also a wonderful stimulus to excite us to push further on in the quest to understanding the mass in our skull… and understanding the nature of our existence.

“Linking Brains, Computers” :: Wall Street July 9, 2008 :: [ READ ]

The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography

The Society for Neuroscience has published on line the complete text of The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography, edited by Larry R. Squire. More about the project is found in the book’s preface.

Although this doesn’t fit under the typical Neuron News topics of the latest developments in neurotechnology, this work is certainly filled with the shoulders of giants who are making this new science possible. So, it is certainly critical reading for anyone interested and involved in the field.

READ ] The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography from SfN

Bionics Research Growing in San Fransisco Area

Neurotechnology companies are increasing in numbers as new inventions and technological developments are growing the burgeoning industry. The greater San Fransisco area is now one of the top regions in the country for the neurotech industry, in addition to Boston and Minneapolis. Check out BayBio for overviews of their 200 member companies just in Northern California.

Current devices include mind-controlled prosthetic limbs (Laurence Orthopedic of Oakland, no website at time of publication), brain implants to block signals that lead to seizures, thought-controlled wheel chairs (Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems of Massachusetts), miniature telescopes to magnify vision in patients with macular degeneration (VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies of Saratoga)… and about 8,000 more products that are being developed for the marketplace.

In fact, there’s so much to talk about, Neuron News is creating a new Topic Category today to cover reviews of new technologies and interviews from people involved in the many emerging neurotech companies. For a first brief overview of some of the latest products, check out this article from The Mercury News…

“Bay Area researchers in search of the real $6 million dollar man” :: The Mercury News :: July 6, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Converting Adult Stems Cells in the Brain

Still, only in California.

Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies are bringing the control of brain cell development from in vitro to in vivo.

Stems cells — in a petri dish — are currently being routinely genetically converted into specific types of cells by introducing certain growth factors. Here, an injected retrovirus into the brain of a mouse to deliver a specific gene into adult stems is used to control stem cell development in vivo. It was previously shown that particular gene, called the Ascl1, converted neuronal stems cells into oligodendrocytes, the critical neuron network supportive cell that forms fatty insulation layers around axons to speed up the propagation of electrical signals.

The extremely exciting prospect of this discovery is the potential ability to increase the production of certain types of brain cells in patients where they are deficient. In particular, multiple sclerosis (more) is caused by the immune system killing off oligodendrocytes, so that neuron communication throughout the body is severely degraded. But, if replacement cells can be controlled, then the effects of the disease might be minimized.

“Adult Stem Cells Reprogrammed In Their Natural Environment” :: ScienceDaily :: July 1, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Directed differentiation of hippocampal stem/progenitor cells in the adult brain” :: Nature Neuroscience :: Published online: 29 June 2008 [ READ ABSTRACT ]

Learn more about the researchers involved in the project:

Last updated May 25, 2020