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Neuron Marching Band

The circulatory system isn't the only part of the body that keeps a beat. The brain needs rhythm too!


Photo: Garry Knight (Flickr)

The conductor signals to different groups of players with swooping arms and flicks of the wrist.

Sweet Symphony

Imagine a big band performance. The beautifully complicated music is a result of the many players who make up the band. How do they play together so perfectly, all with the exact same rhythm? Well, that’s where the band conductor comes in!

The conductor signals to different groups of players with swooping arms and flicks of the wrist. These signals help the band with timing, speed, loudness, everything it needs to stay in rhythm.

This same basic theory can help us understand cortical rhythms and how they affect (conduct) our neurons.

Keeping the Beat

How exactly do billions of diverse neurons work together to form a functioning brain? It’s a question that has been intriguing neuroscientists for years!

The study at UC Berkeley was done using four macaque monkeys at test subjects.

The monkeys were engaged in different mental tasks, while the scientists examined how electrical spikes in one brain region (which are emitted by neurons) affect the rhythm that spreads across other areas of the brain.

What the scientists saw would look like a bunch of squiggly lines to us, but they did find a pattern! The frequency of an individual neuron’s spike was specifically synchronized with frequencies in other parts of the brain.

Roger That

Another way to imagine this is to think of a radio. You can communicate with another person in a totally different location if you are tuned into the same channel. Not only that, but you can communicate with many different people on multiple channels. That’s sort of how neurons communicate too!

By studying these frequencies and rhythms of the brain, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of dysfunctional brain activity. Scientists now think this could be corrected with careful electrical stimulation in one or several areas of the brain to help regulate brain rhythm.

Read More:

  • For Neurons to Work as a Team, It Helps to Have Rhythm (UC-Berkeley)
  • Neuroscience: The Brain’s Got Rhythm (SciTechStory)

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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