Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cerebral Cortex Cells May Pulse Electrical Rhythm Through The Brain

Date:
November 5, 1999
Source:
Brown University
Summary:
Like the steady synchronized blink of a string of holiday lights, certain types of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex communicate with each other through electrical connections, forming a new type of brain circuitry described in the current Nature.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Like the steady synchronized blink of a string of holiday lights, certain types of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex communicate with each other through electrical connections, forming a new type of brain circuitry described in the current Nature.

Until now, scientists thought nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, the sinuous bumps on top of the brain, communicated only through chemical signals.

The cerebral cortex contains two types of nerve cells – excitatory or inhibitory. Each neuron – a nerve cell in the brain – communicates with other neurons through chemical connections that fire off a tiny bit of chemical that either inhibits or excites the next neuron. These connections between neurons are called synapses.

While studying the chemical synaptic connections in the cerebral cortex of rats, Brown University researchers found that two separate types of inhibitory neurons were also using electrical synaptic connections to communicate, but only within their specific groups.

The cerebral cortex is the biggest part of the brain. This large and complicated neural circuit is involved in most of the brain’s highest functions, such as memory, language and sight. Within each type of excitatory or inhibitory cell, circuitry keeps neurons interconnected and communicating to keep overall brain activity in balance. Too much excitation and too little inhibition, for example, may lead to seizures. The opposite may lead to a loss of consciousness, coma or death.

The presence of electrical synapses in the cerebral cortex allows each network of inhibitory neurons to fire in a highly coordinated and direct way, as if there were a wire directly connecting the cells, said Barry Connors, professor of neuroscience and senior author of the study. “We think the inhibitory cells are coordinating their activity through the electrical synapses,” he said. The result is synchrony similar to the steady blinking of Christmas lights.

One of the two circuits, dubbed LTS neurons, may be involved in preventing runaway excitation among nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, Connors said. The electrical synapses may allow these neurons to generate activity over a large area of the brain, he said.

“It appears this one group is especially suited to regulating cortical function,” he said. “Most of the time it is not doing anything. But it becomes active when the brain’s activity increases to a high level. This network of inhibitory neurons may act like the governor on the engine of the cortex, keeping excitability from running away and becoming an epileptic seizure.”

Some scientists have suggested that inhibitory neurons generate the brain’s electrical rhythms. These rhythms offer clues to the brain’s state. Rhythms are smaller and faster when one is awake and slower and larger during sleep. LTS neurons may be the rhythms’ source.

“As we continue this research, we do suspect that this group of inhibitory cells may be the ‘pacemaker’ for generating some of the brain’s rhythmic electrical activity, the kind measured by an EEG,” Connors said.

The other electrical network of inhibitory neurons described in the study, called FS neurons, seems to be more directly involved in the processing of sensory information, he said.

Connors and colleagues study epilepsy, an illness often controlled by drugs that steady the brain’s chemical signals to keep cellular networks in balance. Discovery of electrical interconnections among cells in the cerebral cortex may one day provide another pathway for the treatment of brain-based illnesses.

The study’s lead author is Jay Gibson, postdoctoral fellow. The other author is graduate student Michael Beierlein. The National Institutes of Health funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brown University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Brown University. "Cerebral Cortex Cells May Pulse Electrical Rhythm Through The Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/11/991105073533.htm>.
Brown University. (1999, November 5). Cerebral Cortex Cells May Pulse Electrical Rhythm Through The Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/11/991105073533.htm
Brown University. "Cerebral Cortex Cells May Pulse Electrical Rhythm Through The Brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/11/991105073533.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Liberia Pleads for Help to Fight Ebola

Liberia Pleads for Help to Fight Ebola

AP (Sep. 22, 2014) Liberia's finance minister is urging the international community to quickly follow through on pledges of cash to battle Ebola. Bodies are piling up in the capital Monrovia as the nation awaits more help. (Sept. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Doctor Says Border Controls Critical

Ebola Doctor Says Border Controls Critical

AP (Sep. 22, 2014) A Florida doctor who helped fight the expanding Ebola outbreak in West Africa says the disease can be stopped, but only if nations quickly step up their response and make border control a priority. (Sept. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Global Ebola Aid Increasing But Critics Say It's Late

Global Ebola Aid Increasing But Critics Say It's Late

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) More than 100 tons of medical supplies were sent to West Africa on Saturday, but aid workers say the global response is still sluggish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

Sierra Leone in Lockdown to Control Ebola

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Sierra Leone residents remained in lockdown on Saturday as part of a massive effort to confine millions of people to their homes in a bid to stem the biggest Ebola outbreak in history. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins