Neuron News

Decoding the Language of the Neuron

Neuron communication is not a trivial language and it has yet to be fully understood. This so-called “neural code” is certainly not as simple as a single electrical impulse each time a brain cell wants to say “Hi!” to a neighbor. There can be continuous signals, of varying strengths, and with the latest research from Prof. Anthony Zador at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratoryvarying timings.

Understanding how neurons communicate is fundamental to developing neuron-based technologies that will embed and integrate living neural devices into the human system. Of significant importance is the physical structure of the neuron network and how its patterning results in the overall network’s function. But, at a more basic level, it is being realized that the electrical signaling patterns between individual neurons is potentially even more complex with amplitude (signal strength), frequency, and even small-scale variations in frequency all being a critical component in the language… which ultimately guides the behavior of the neuron network and the organism.

“Experiments support alternative theory of information processing in the cortex” :: :: October 16, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Millisecond-scale differences in neural activity in auditory cortex can drive decisions” :: Nature Neuroscience Brief Communication :: October 12, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Financial Support for the Neurotech Industry–no bailout needed, yet

The Neurotechnology marketplace is a fledgling industry and it must remain exciting with many potentials to continue to encourage new brave entrepreneurs to enter in the field in the coming decade. However, our current global economic hiccup is certainly hard on everyone, and cash flow for neurotech companies is a serious issue.

The equally young Neurotechnology Industry Organization is a great start to bringing additional lobbying support for the market, but hitting challenging times early on in the industry’s development will likely slow down advancements in the coming years. Neuron News keeps a very close eye on the NERV NASDAQ NeuroInsights Neurotech Index (see the financial chart presented below), the following article gives us a brief look–from a pure stock investor’s perspective–of the growing concerns for the sector and how the industry is coping.

“Can neurotech deliver on its growth promise?” :: BloggingStocks :: November 12, 2008 :: [READ ]

Nanotechnology Meets Neurotechnology

Nanotechnology will be the key field of research that will bridge future gaps between advancements in neurological control and interfaces that connect our own bodies to our own brains in new and exciting ways.

Vivek Maheshwari and Ravi Saraf recently wrote a thorough review of advances from nanotechnology in the developments of artificial “skins” that can mimic the sensitive electrical responses of the human sensation of touch. Michael Berger from Nanowerk provides a nice overview of the published review to help guide you through this important research.

The exciting next step, then, is to integrate the nano-skin with the neuro-device through a direct functional link between living neurons in an embedded structure that connects the electrical activity of the artificial skin to the brain in a meaningful way.

“Nanotechnology skin to rival human touch” :: Nanowerk :: September 30, 2008 [ READ ]

“Tactile Devices To Sense Touch on a Par with a Human Finger” :: Wiley InterScience Abstract (read) :: Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2008, 47, 7808 – 7826 :: [ READ REVIEW ARTICLE PDF ]

Preparing to Witness a New Consciousness Soon

Neuron News has been on a bit of break since mid-September, and we will be trying to roll out more activity in the near future as best as possible. This break was initially due to a brief return to the theater with a role in a local production of Glenngary Glenn Ross by David Mamet at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois.

Now, our family is getting very close to welcoming in our latest addition, Andrew, who will be due anytime from now until early December. So, we are quite busy taking care of the “nest” and making sure Mommy is taken care of as best as possible.

One rather interesting experience I enjoyed with our first child, Elizabeth, was watching her brain develop from the first cry in the hospital room to my first observation of an inkling of a consciousness. This observation was certainly un-scientific, but there was just something… something noticeable in the way her eyes became a little more focused; there was something behind those eyes that didn’t seem to be there yesterday.

I hope to document these observations with Andrew–which I’m sure will be quite subjective–with his development from little living blob of cells to something more; something with a brain that has developed beyond simply pumping blood and expanding and contracting lungs. I do believe that a baby is born without a sophisticated “consciousness,” whatever that might really mean as we still have no scientific understanding of our notion of sentient beings. But, there is a transition. A transition from non-thinking to thinking; from basic biological mechanics to … something more.

It is a profound and amazing process, and I can’t wait to witness this transition once again.

New Understanding in Neuron Axon Guideance from the Salk Institute

How neurons develop their vast networks of axons and dendrites with apparently accurate targeting to generate a functioning brain remains a core question in neuroscience. Although some of the interconnections might be partially “random” with the resulting complex network still managing to generate meaningful neural function, it still seems that the network connects in a directed way. How neurons know with whom to connect remains mostly unclear.

Image from Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Using genetically-modified neurons from a mouse, the O’Leary research group from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found a surprising additional function of a well-known protein called “p75.” Also involved in the regulation of keeping a neuron alive, it has now been observed to affect and direct axon growth.

And the function is rather interesting: the protein apparently does not act to attract an axon to follow a certain path… (“come follow me to the promised land!”), but rather it repulses the growth cone to head in another direction… (“yer git on outta here!”).

The important aspect of this research is leading to a complete understanding of neuron network growth and development, in particular the understanding of what controls how and where the network connections develop. If we know what are the biological controls, then we can in turn control or influence these factors to guide neurons implanted on a neurotechnological device to connect in specific ways that might be needed for a particular application.

Read more about this interesting work, and think about how this p75 protein might be involved in your next neurotech implant…

“A second career for a growth factor receptor: keeping nerve axons on target” :: Salk Institute Press Release :: September 11, 2008 :: [ READ ]

How Neuron Networks Form and Recall Memories will Guide Neuron Device Development

New experimental evidence for how human brains form “memories” and later access them via the neural network has been reported by researchers lead by Dr. Itzhak Fried from the UCLA Medical Center.

By directly recording neuronal activity through implanted electrodes in a group of epilepsy patients at the hospital, data was first taken while the patients watched scenes in familiar video clips. The group was then later asked to freely recall any of the videos while neuron recordings continued.

Although single (or very small collections) of neurons were being directly recorded, it was determined that they were not acting alone while accessing the “stored memory.” Rather, the recall process was part of a much larger network, possibly comprised of hundreds of thousands of neuron nodes. In addition, the work provides a bit of experimental confirmation of the previously theoretical notion that “memory recall” involves the same neurons that are active during “memory formation.”

This understanding is vital for the development of neural devices because it is becoming even more evident that large, interconnected networks of neurons are required to create create memories and any form of human “thought.” If we want to create technologies that will directly integrate into human neural networks, there must be a full understanding of not just the structure of the network, but also how the network can re-use the same neurons (or, network nodes) with possibly different patterns of activity to perform multiple brain functions or represent different “thoughts” of the mind.

“How memories are made, and recalled” :: :: September 8, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Last updated May 25, 2020