Brain cells recorded as among the least electrically active during a specific task may be the most important for doing it right.
Results of new experiments in rodents, led by neuroscientists at NYU School of Medicine, with a Fordham faculty member as lead theoretical investigator, challenge the assumption in brain research that the most active brain cells, or neurons, involved in any complex activity are also the most important in controlling that behavior.
For the study, published online in detail in the journal eLife on February 26, the researchers monitored brain cell activity with probes in two brain regions of the cerebral cortex—the front portion of the mammalian brain known to control how tasks are carried out in response to what is heard and seen in the environment.
Badr Albanna, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurophysics said this work begins to tackle an old question in systems neuroscience: do cortical neurons which appear non-responsive contribute to behavior?
“In this paper, we demonstrate that these cells encode information relevant for the task on using a new, general purpose algorithm for decoding neural activity on single trials. We hope that this work will encourage electrophysiologists to take a more inclusive look at their data and consider the role that these cells may play,” he said.
Among the study’s key findings was that among nearly 200 monitored brain cells or sets of the brain cells in rats, 60 percent appeared at first glance to be relatively quiet as the rats, based on training, successfully pushed a button with their noses to get food in response to a certain sound. However, computer analysis showed that the least-active neurons in the cortex “fired” at the same time with more active brain cells when the rodents correctly pushed the button in response to the right sound, researchers say.
Read more via NYU’s press release about the study.