Scientists in mind-body control breakthrough

Activating a single brain cell in a rat can make its whiskers twitch, a discovery researchers say could help decipher how the brain controls movement.

    Electrodes were used to excite cells in the animal's brain

    Eventually that could help scientists develop devices paralysed people could control, such as robotic arms.

      

    Researchers had thought because the part of the brain that controls movement contains so many cells, an individual cell would not have much impact, said Michael Brecht, author of the study that appeared in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

      

    "This changes our view on what a single cell does," said Brecht, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany.

      

    Surprise

     

    Brecht said the findings, which he described as a surprise, could help scientists develop brain-controlled devices.

      

    "This will help us to understand how we would have to read the activities of these cells," Brecht said.

      

    Jon H Kaas, a neurology professor at Vanderbilt University, called the results encouraging.

      

    "This changes our view on what a single cell does"

    Michael Brecht,
    researcher

    The researchers used tiny electrodes to excite individual brain cells in the motor cortex of anaesthetised rats.

     

    The brain's motor cortex, which controls movement, does not directly activate muscles, but signals a pattern generator that sends more detailed commands to the muscles, Kaas said.

      

    "Those pattern generators are not very complicated and could easily be generated by a small computer" to control a robot arm, for example, Kaas said.

      

    Sandro Mussa-Ivaldi, a neurologist at Northwestern University, said it was not clear whether the findings would apply to brain-controlled devices.

      

    Scientists differ on how many brain cells will have to be involved to control such devices, he said.

     

    The new work does not shed much light on the debate because so many rat brain cells are devoted to whisker movement.

    SOURCE: Unspecified


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    Survivor stories from Super Typhoon Haiyan

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    We Are Still Here: A Story from Native Alaska

    We Are Still Here: A Story from Native Alaska

    From Qatar to Alaska, a personal journey exploring what it means to belong when your culture is endangered.