A direct link between activity in the brain’s cortex and the microscopic structure of the neuronal network has been shown and published in the open access journal PLoS ONE on May 14, 2008.

Building on an existing body of research, Roberto Fernández Galán, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine, investigated the small neuronal networks in the cortex. He found that the spontaneous activity in which they engage is not just random “noise,” but rather highly structured patterns of signals. This illuminates previous speculations, proving that these patterns are clearly shaped by network connectivity. “The activity patterns can be used to inform researchers about the anatomy of the underlying neuronal network,” he explains. “Reciprocally, the connections in the network determine the patterns of spontaneous neuronal activity and their complexity.”

Galán added, indicating that there could be a relatively clearly interpreted system interlaced: “The calculations and the computer model showed that these structured patterns can function as an ‘alphabet’ of the neural code, since the network activity consists of combinations of these patterns, similarly to a printed text that consists of combinations of letters.” He added, noting on the importance of these findings, that they “are useful in determining how much information a neuronal network in the brain can process.”

This research is a major step in the understanding of neuroscience on a systems level — that is, how neurons behave when they are connected to form networks. In the end, how the brain processes and stores sensory information is important to understand why alterations between these connections can lead to pathologies, such as epilepsy.

Dr. Galán entered the faculty at CWRU’s School of Medicine in February 2008 after completing postdoctoral work at Carnegie Mellon University and the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition in Pittsburgh. Shortly after this, he was awarded as a scholar in the Mount Sinai Health Care Foundation Scholars program, and he is the twelfth faculty member to receive this honor since the program’s inception in 1998. “Roberto Fernández Galán has made an outstanding addition to the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine,” commented Dean Pamela B. Davis, M.D., Ph.D. “We are excited about the impact of this paper in the field of neurosciences and are looking forward to his continued contributions to the top-tier research conducted by our faculty.”

The above research was supported by the Mount Sinai Foundation, one of the leading health philanthropies in Greater Cleveland.

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On How Network Architecture Determines the Dominant Patterns of Spontaneous Neural Activity.
Galán RF (2008)
PLoS ONE 3(5): e2148.
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Written by Anna Sophia McKenney