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Cultured brain cells taught to keep time

Date:
July 19, 2010
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
Scientists have tested whether networks of brain cells kept alive in culture could be "trained" to keep time. The findings suggest that networks of brain cells can learn to generate simple timed intervals.

Each trace represents a neuron's voltage in response to a single stimulus at time = 0. Dark colors represent the voltage of neurons at rest, and "hot" colors represent increases in the voltage (depolarization) produced by cell network activity.
Credit: Image courtesy of UCLA

The ability to tell time is fundamental to how humans interact with each other and the world. Timing plays an important role, for example, in our ability to recognize speech patterns and to create music.

Patterns are an essential part of timing. The human brain easily learns patterns, allowing us to recognize familiar patterns of shapes, like faces, and timed patterns, like the rhythm of a song. But exactly how the brain keeps time and learns patterns remains a mystery.

In this three-year study, UCLA scientists attempted to unravel the mystery by testing whether networks of brain cells kept alive in culture could be "trained" to keep time. The team stimulated the cells with simple patterns -- two stimuli separated by different intervals lasting from a twentieth of a second up to half a second.

After two hours of training, the team observed a measurable change in the cellular networks' response to a single input. In the networks trained with a short interval, the network's activity lasted for a short period of time. Conversely, in the networks trained with a long interval, network activity lasted for a longer amount of time.

The UCLA findings are the first to suggest that networks of brain cells in a petri dish can learn to generate simple timed intervals. The research sheds light on how the brain tells time and will enhance scientists' understanding of how the brain works.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hope A Johnson, Anubhuthi Goel, Dean V Buonomano. Neural dynamics of in vitro cortical networks reflects experienced temporal patterns. Nature Neuroscience, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/nn.2579

Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "Cultured brain cells taught to keep time." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100615093246.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2010, July 19). Cultured brain cells taught to keep time. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100615093246.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "Cultured brain cells taught to keep time." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100615093246.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

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