Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scans Show Learning 'Sculpts' The Brain's Connections

Date:
January 5, 2010
Source:
Washington University School of Medicine
Summary:
Spontaneous brain activity formerly thought to be "white noise" measurably changes after a person learns a new task, researchers have shown. Scientists also report that the degree of change reflects how well subjects have learned to perform the task.

Artist's rendering of active neurons.
Credit: iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki

Spontaneous brain activity formerly thought to be "white noise" measurably changes after a person learns a new task, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Chieti, Italy, have shown.

Scientists also report that the degree of change reflects how well subjects have learned to perform the task. Their study is publishedin the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Recent studies have shown that in the absence of any overt behavior, and even during sleep or anesthesia, the brain's spontaneous activity is not random, but organized in patterns of correlated activity that occur in anatomically and functionally connected regions," says senior author Maurizio Corbetta, M.D., Norman J. Stupp Professor of Neurology. "The reasons behind the spontaneous activity patterns remain mysterious, but we have now shown that learning causes small changes in those patterns, and that these changes are behaviorally important."

At the start of the experiment, Corbetta, graduate students Chris Lewis and Antonello Baldassarre and their colleagues in Italy used functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging to scan the spontaneous brain activity of 14 volunteers as they sat quietly.

Next, researchers scanned the subjects as they spent one to two hours a day for five to seven days learning to watch a display inside the MRI scanner for the brief presence of an inverted "T" in a specific part of the screen. Two sets of brain areas were particularly active during the task: part of the visual cortex that corresponded to the portion of the visual field where subjects were looking for the "T", and areas in the dorsal part of the brain involved in directing attention to the location on the screen.

After the visual training, scientists again scanned the subjects' brains while they did nothing.

When the subjects rested at the start of the experiment, spontaneous activity in the two parts of the brain that are important to the visual task was either not linked or weakly correlated, with the two regions involved in the upcoming task only occasionally being active at the same time. After learning, though, each region was more likely to be active when the other region wasn't. Subjects who were more successful at the task exhibited a higher degree of this "anti-correlation" between the two regions after learning.

Corbetta suggests this learning-induced change in the brain's spontaneous activity may reflect what he calls a "memory trace" for the new skill. The trace makes it easier to use those parts of the brain together again when the same challenge recurs.

"It's as though these two brain systems are learning to get out of each other's way," says Corbetta. "After learning, the brain can identify the targets at a glance in a way that requires less direct attention and thus less interaction between the regions involved in the task."

In addition to helping "grease" anatomical connections between different brain regions, Corbetta speculates that the changes in spontaneous brain activity may maintain a record of prior experience that constrains the way the same circuitries are recruited at the time of a task.

"This suggests that disruption of spontaneous correlated activity may be a common mechanism through which brain function abnormalities manifest in a number of neurological, psychiatric or developmental conditions," he says.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Lewis et al. Learning sculpts the spontaneous activity of the resting human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0902455106

Cite This Page:

Washington University School of Medicine. "Scans Show Learning 'Sculpts' The Brain's Connections." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091009092351.htm>.
Washington University School of Medicine. (2010, January 5). Scans Show Learning 'Sculpts' The Brain's Connections. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091009092351.htm
Washington University School of Medicine. "Scans Show Learning 'Sculpts' The Brain's Connections." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091009092351.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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