Scientists have uncovered a unique process in the human brain that allows different regions to work together to perform certain tasks.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, reveal how various regions of the brain use a mechanism to communicate with one another to accomplish a particular task.
"This is among the first mechanisms reported in the literature for letting brain areas process information continuously but only communicate what they need to," Matthew T. Kaufman, neuroscience researcher from Stanford University and study co-author, said in a statement.
Scientists made the discovery by studying monkeys that had been trained to make precise arm movements. Researchers took electrical readings from the monkeys’ arm muscles and two motor cortical regions in the brain known to control arm movements.
Each of the regions examined had more than 20 million neurons. Since scientists could not probe all the neurons in each region, they sampled about 100 to 200 individual neurons within the two regions to draw their conclusions.
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"Our neurons are always firing, and they're always connected," Kaufman said. "So it's important to control what signals are communicated from one area to the next."
The monkeys were trained to pause before reaching, allowing the brain to prepare for the movement before the arm actually moved. From the data, researchers found that during the brain’s preparatory stage, the brain had a way of balancing individual neurons inside each region. When the neurons fired fast, others slowed down to make sure a constant message was sent to the muscles.
The findings may have a broader impact on the development of prosthetic limbs.
"The serendipitous interplay between basic science and engineering never ceases to amaze me," professor Krishna Shenoy said. "Some of the best ideas for the design of prosthetic systems to help people with paralysis come from basic neuroscience research, as is the case here, and some of the deepest scientific insights come from engineering measurement and medical systems."