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Discoveries in Neuroscience Show How Information Flows in the Brain

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

By: April Carson

The focus of a long-standing research collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Champalimaud Research is to understand how brain regions communicate with one another. The cross-continental team is recording populations of neurons in the visual system and utilizing cutting-edge statistical techniques to look for neural activity patterns flowing between areas.

"What we're trying to understand is how information gets from one place to another in the brain," said David Danks, the Philip L. and Marsha Dowd University Professor of Philosophy and Psychology in Carnegie Mellon's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Researchers discovered that feedforward and feedback signaling have distinct neural activity patterns, offering fresh insight into how the brain processes visual input.

The brain's ability to communicate with one another is essential for many cognitive functions, such as seeing, hearing, and making judgments. Researchers have previously studied pairs of neurons or some aggregate measure of neuronal activity across regions in order to see how information is handled, processed, and then acted upon in everyday life.

Few research teams have investigated populations of neurons together in such depth to examine the sort of activity patterns that are being transmitted between areas.

“The purpose of this research was to look at how information moves across two regions in the visual cortex, V1 and V2,” says João D. Semedo, first author of the study published in Nature Communications and formerly a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering. “Based on anatomy, we had good reason to believe that areas communicate with one another; however, tracking the flow of signals between areas has proven to be challenging.”

“We've been able to record different brain areas at the same time and within each of those regions, numerous neurons with pioneering technology from Dr. Kohn's lab,” Semedo explains. “It is the activation of a group of neurons that informs us what is occurring. Then we used creative statistics in an innovative way to extract signals that have not previously been discovered.”

The researchers discovered directed interactions between brain areas and verified that activity patterns in feedforward interactions (from V1 to V2) differed from activity patterns in feedback interactions (from V2 to V1). The collaborators have stayed connected on all aspects of the project thanks to weekly meetings and a cooperative, teamwork-driven approach.

“The distinction between what is sent from one brain region to another is difficult to untangle because signals are constantly flowing in all directions,” explains Adam Kohn, a neuroscientist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “For me, the most exciting aspect of this research is its potential applications in the future. If we can identify activity patterns associated with various signaling pathways, it will be a major step toward comprehending how the brain functions.”

These techniques may be extended to examine the flow of communication in other parts of the brain, such as those involved with pain sensation.

“This study increases our basic scientific knowledge of how the brain functions,” says Byron Yu, a neuroscientist and electrical and computer engineering professor. “Many brain diseases are caused by a failure of communication between different parts of the brain. This ground-breaking research may lead to new therapies for such problems as well as help us create new strategies to improve human learning ability.”

The study’s senior author, Michael L. Roukes, the Robert M. Abbey Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Bioengineering at Caltech, says that the new findings “provide a fresh perspective—at the single-neuron level—of how information is integrated across multiple brain regions.”

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

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