Scientists Successfully Map Computational Language onto Neurons in the Brain

A novel study out of MIT is the first of its kind to accurately describe the behavior of certain classes of neurons using simple, yet subtle, mathematical formulas, aiding in the fight against neurological disease. 

What's the Latest Development?

By studying a specific subclass of neurons, MIT researchers have found that simple mathematical formulas accurately describe how the brain allows us to perceive the world, control movements and make decisions. By programming two types of inhibitor cells to produce light-sensitive genes, researchers could easily activate them to study their effects on another type of neuron known as pyramidal cells. "The team combined this with calcium imaging inside the target pyramidal cells. Calcium levels reflect a cell’s electrical activity, allowing the researchers to determine how much activity was repressed by the inhibitory cells."

What's the Big Idea?

Thanks to new techniques that allowed researchers to target and manipulate well-defined cell classes, the ways in which different kinds of neurons interact with each other can be defined in computational language for the first time. The MIT study, published in the August 9 edition of Nature, reports that two major classes of brain cells repress neural activity in specific mathematical ways. "The findings could help scientists learn more about diseases thought to be caused by imbalances in brain inhibition and excitation, including autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder." 

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