Science Diary: Frontiers of the Brain – Chattering Neurons

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ambience: Neuron chatter

“You could go oh that’s Bob talking, oh that’s Susie or that’s Frank over there.’ So you’d be able to sort them. And that’s basically what we’re doing.”

Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries – a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Biophysicist John Beggs of Indiana University is trying to figure out how brain cells communicate.

“When you record from lots and lots of brain cells, you’ve got one electrode that’s stuck in the tissue for example, and it can pick up signals from a lot of different brain cells that are close by. Each of those brain cells goes through a little electrical change and its voltage changes, and that electrode can pick up the voltage changes in more than one brain cell. And so one of the things that we have to do is sort these brain cells, and decide oh wait a minute, that, that one goes over there and this one goes over there, but all you’re doing is you’re listening to a single stream of the activity. And you have to have ways of analyzing the data and distinguishing all the separate voices. So it’d be kind of like if you were listening on the telephone and you heard like five different people talking at once. If you knew those people and each person had a certain characteristic tone of voice or volume or timbre to their voice, you could distinguish them — you could go oh that’s Bob talking, oh that’s Susie or that’s Frank over there. So you’d be able to sort them. And that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re taking the information from one electrode and we’re trying to sort it in a way that will allow us to distinguish individual neurons, and to make sure that we don’t accidentally combine different neurons and think that they’re really the same one. If we do that, then that messes up our analysis, because then we don’t really know what an individual neuron is, then you can’t say what a network of neurons is doing.”

By learning more about neurons, John Beggs hopes to not only discover more about how the actions of individual brain cells add up to thoughts and feelings, but also the causes of disorders such as epilepsy. Check out his blog on pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.
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Science Diary: Frontiers of the Brain - Chattering Neurons

Hearing a friend's voice from across a crowded room is nothing impressive, but how about recognizing the signal of a single neuron?
Air Date:11/22/2010
Scientist:
Transcript:

music

ambience: Neuron chatter

"You could go oh that's Bob talking, oh that's Susie or that's Frank over there.' So you'd be able to sort them. And that's basically what we're doing."

Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries - a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Biophysicist John Beggs of Indiana University is trying to figure out how brain cells communicate.

"When you record from lots and lots of brain cells, you've got one electrode that's stuck in the tissue for example, and it can pick up signals from a lot of different brain cells that are close by. Each of those brain cells goes through a little electrical change and its voltage changes, and that electrode can pick up the voltage changes in more than one brain cell. And so one of the things that we have to do is sort these brain cells, and decide oh wait a minute, that, that one goes over there and this one goes over there, but all you're doing is you're listening to a single stream of the activity. And you have to have ways of analyzing the data and distinguishing all the separate voices. So it'd be kind of like if you were listening on the telephone and you heard like five different people talking at once. If you knew those people and each person had a certain characteristic tone of voice or volume or timbre to their voice, you could distinguish them -- you could go oh that's Bob talking, oh that's Susie or that's Frank over there. So you'd be able to sort them. And that's basically what we're doing. We're taking the information from one electrode and we're trying to sort it in a way that will allow us to distinguish individual neurons, and to make sure that we don't accidentally combine different neurons and think that they're really the same one. If we do that, then that messes up our analysis, because then we don't really know what an individual neuron is, then you can't say what a network of neurons is doing.”

By learning more about neurons, John Beggs hopes to not only discover more about how the actions of individual brain cells add up to thoughts and feelings, but also the causes of disorders such as epilepsy. Check out his blog on pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.
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