Researchers from Biozentrum, University of Basel found that nerve cells form a bewildering meshwork of connections called synapses up to several thousand per cell and yet not all synaptic connections are equal. The overwhelming majority of connections are weak, and cells make only very few strong links.
Leader Thomas Mrsic-Flogel said that they wanted to see if there are rules that explain how neurons connect in complex networks comprising millions of neurons and it turns out that one of the rules is quite simple, like-minded neurons are strongly coupled, while neurons that behave very differently from each other connect weakly or not at all.
Lead author Lee Cossell said that if neurons need to change their behavior, weak connections are already in place to be strengthened, perhaps ensuring rapid plasticity in the brain and as a result, the brain could quickly adapt to changes in the environment.
This research is part of worldwide effort to shed light on how the brain generates perceptions, thoughts and actions by mapping the brain's wiring diagram as it reveals how networks of neurons interact together to process information. Understanding how neurons connect will pave the way for building detailed computer simulations of the brain, says Mrsic-Flogel.
If they know what the pattern of connections in the brain should look like, then they can start to figure out what happens when things go wrong, for example, in schizophrenia or autism, adds Mrsic-Flogel.
The results are published in the journal Nature.
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