More knowledge on the working of neurons, which suggest ways of better designing the brain implants used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's disease has been added in a new study.
Neurons are responsible for essential things like muscle contraction, gland secretion and sensitivity to touch, sound and light, and yet are constantly bombarded with signals from here, there and everywhere.
But it was unknown how these busy nerve cells pick out and respond to relevant signals amidst that entire information overload.
Now, University of Michigan mathematician Daniel Forger and his team have demonstrated that somehow neurons do manage to accomplish the daunting task, and they do it with more finesse than anyone ever realized.
Forger and co-authors David Paydarfar at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and John Clay at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke studied neuronal excitation using mathematical models.
They experimented with squid giant axon-a long arm of a nerve cell that controls part of the water jet propulsion system in squid- that is the most famous of neuroscience study subjects.he findings reveal that neurons are quite adept at their job.
"They can pick out a signal from hundreds of other, similar signals," said Forger.
Neurons discriminate among signals based on the signals' "shape," (how a signal changes over time), and Forger and coauthors found that, contrary to prior belief, a neuron's preference depends on context.
They found that neurons can search for more than one signal at the same time, and their choice of signal depends on what else is competing for their attention.
The findings could contribute in two main ways to the design and use of brain implants in treating neurological disorders.
The findings were published July 7 in the online, open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.