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A New Look At Brain Control 65

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-we-do-it-at-a-distance-yet dept.
one_neuron_two_neuron writes "Researchers at Harvard have taken a new look at how electricity can make neurons fire in the brain. The scientists found some surprising things: if you stick an electrode in the brain and apply current, you don't just make a small group of neurons fire — many neurons fire a long way away from the electrode. That's probably because instead of activating the cell bodies of the neurons, their axons fire. Those axons are the wiring of the brain. Your cerebral cortex is something like a big pile of unwound yo-yos — if you stick an electrode into the cortex, you're much more likely to hit the strings (the axons), and the yo-yo connected to the string can be really far away. So, how will you ever hook up a computer to your brain? This data shows that we need to rethink how to do that with electrical current. If you stick an electrode in one place, neurons in a totally different place will fire. New optogenetic methods (e.g. using viral delivery of proteins) might work. Or possibly we will figure out how to make the brain learn to interpret these sparse, widespread electrical patterns. New optical techniques have made a dramatic impact on neuroscience recently, and this study uses pulsed-laser-scanning microscopy (two-photon microscopy) to take pictures of neurons deep inside the living brain. The academic paper (PDF) is available on the author's site."
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A New Look At Brain Control

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  • by dangitman (862676)

    Your cerebral cortex is something like a big pile of unwound yo-yos

    WTF? Why don't they just say "the brain is a big pile of neurons and axons"? It would be more helpful than this bizarre analogy.

  • by ZackSchil (560462) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @12:27AM (#29239731)

    It makes me sad to think that some day, I'll be stumbling around with my brain machine interface, creating thought streams one at a time and accidentally thinking of something else halfway through, losing my work, and asking the kids for help.

    And they'll look me in the eye and feign sympathy as they blast high-frequency shorthand thoughts back and forth to one another, mocking my generation for being so dumb that its members can't even work a brain port properly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by drseuk (824707)
      Remember to think in Soviet Russian if you're in Firefox.
    • I'm still typing with two fingers, having never learned to touch-type and generally having enough muscle memory to work with what I've got. Sure, my WPM is dreadful and I'll never be a typist, but for programming at the scale I do, it's less about vast pages of code and more about knowing what I'm writing.

      I'm also a strong advocate of Brain-Computer Interface technology, although whether it's out of reluctance to re-learn typing or a desire to push the boundaries of the human condition, well... ...a little

  • From the sophomoric language in the summary (my apologies to real sophomores, like the ones in high school) and the fact the paper hasn't been submitted anywhere and so who else would have access, I conclude that it is the first author (a student), not the second (a post doc that did the matlab work) or third (an MD/PHD) that posted this here. Calling yourself a researcher and not making your student status clear is a failure of full disclosure. It also works against you in that people will forgive a studen

  • Your cerebral cortex is something like a big pile of unwound yo-yos

    Yeah, great. Thanks for clearing that one up Slashdot.

  • Particularly the language "totally different place."

    Neurons in a "totally different place" will fire....this kind of language doesn't comfort me about the prospect of sticking electrodes into my brain. "We're not totally sure which neurons we're firing. It could be the ones we're touching with this little wire or it could be ones in a totally different place.. I guess we'll find out, huh?!?!"
    ï
    If my neurosurgeon said that to me as he started drilling into my skull I would be wanting to strongarm my way

  • This is so patently obvious that to call it a new discovery is just silly. Who conducted this study at Harvard; the accounting department?

    Anyone involved in brain science knows how interconnected the brain is and how remotely connected neurons are. Why would anyone assume that forcing one neuron to fire from an electrical stimulus would only affect neurons locally?

    • 1) Harvard has nothing to do with this...
      2) It is a "discovery", well at least a new result and new finding because the method used shows EXACTLY what happens with electrical stimulation, not just guesses.
      3) Previously in the field, the "guesses" (assumption) was that there would ROUGHLY be a sphere of activated neurons surrounding the electrode tip. The results show that this assumption is very wrong and the actual neurons activated are highly idiosyncratic and difficult to predict. MANY previous studies t

      • You say

        Previously in the field, the "guesses" (assumption) was that there would ROUGHLY be a sphere of activated neurons surrounding the electrode tip.

        I know the article stated this, but this is clearly not the case. As early as 1874 Roberts Barlow demonstrated that electrical stimulation of neurons triggered muscular contractions. These kinds of experiments have been going on with rats, cats, dogs, monkeys, and a veritable menagerie of other critters (including humans) for more than 100 years. It has been

        • As early as 1874 Roberts Barlow demonstrated that electrical stimulation of neurons triggered muscular contractions.

          You're confusing the activation of neurons local to a stimulating electrode vs the propagation of a signal (e.g. action potential) via the axons (nerves) from such neurons to their targets (which may be other neurons or muscles, near or far away).

          It has been well understood through experimentation that electrical stimulation of one area of the brain triggers the firing of other neurons elsewh

  • you don't just make a small group of neurons fire -- many neurons fire a long way away from the electrode. That's probably because instead of activating the cell bodies of the neurons, their axons fire. [...] and the yo-yo connected to the string can be really far away.

    Was this ever not blatantly obvious?
    I'm always shocked by how unobvious the whole concept of the brain is to even the very "scientists" who work on it.
    They seem to always be caught in some tiny box and/or focusing on details that are only artifacts of the foundational rules.
    I'm sorry, but trying to identify what a specific part of the brain does (except for some really specific parts like the cerebellum), is a pointless exercise, that shows that you don't really understand the point of the way a neural netw

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