Scientists make brain signal discovery

July 6, 2011
Scientists make brain signal discovery

(Medical Xpress) -- A Murdoch University scientist is closer to understanding why early brain development is so critical to mental health and function in the long term.

Dr Sarah Etherington from the School of Veterinary and studied rodents – which have similar microcircuits in their brains to those found in humans – to discover that there are important changes in the flow of information within a part of the known as the visual cortex, during very early development.

Importantly, some of the most dramatic changes to information flow in the visual cortex, which processes visual information, seemed to occur when the subject first opened its eyes.

“If the flow of information in the visual cortex is changing dramatically when the brain is first exposed to the visual world, it will impact on the other developmental processes in this tissue,” explained Dr Etherington.

“We are particularly interested in researching the development of the visual cortex because several debilitating human medical conditions, such as autism, involve specific deficiencies in the processing of visual information.

“It has been known for decades that normal visual input – the movement, shapes and colours of everyday life – during development is essential for the visual cortex to function normally in maturity, but why this input is so important during this period remains unclear.”

The bulk of Dr Etherington’s studies were carried out in the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge, England where she collaborated closely with Professor Stephen Williams, who has since relocated to the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland. Professor Williams is an international authority on neuroscience and is Dr Etherington’s mentor.

Together they studied one of the many connections in the visual cortex of rodents and their paper on the research has just been published in the prestigious publication The Journal of Neuroscience.

Funding from the McCusker Charitable Foundation will help Dr Etherington, Dr Williams and a research team at Murdoch University study some of the other connections in the mammalian visual cortex. The innovative method they will use records electrical signals from nerve cells in the cortex and so allows Dr Etherington to see how that pattern of information transfer between these cells changes over the early developmental period.

The research will utilise state-of-the-art equipment set up by Dr Etherington and funded by Murdoch University.

“There has not been a lot of research done into how information flow within the visual cortex changes at this early stage of development and so we are now looking forward to mapping these changes,” said Dr Etherington. “We will then be able to test our hypothesis that changes in the flow of information within the are experience-dependent.

“We would hope that this could lead to understanding and ultimately minimising the potentially detrimental impact of early life experiences on lifetime and function.”

Explore further: Filters that reduce 'brain clutter' identified

More information: www.jneurosci.org/

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New mechanism discovered behind infant epilepsy

September 3, 2015

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden have discovered a new explanation for severe early infant epilepsy. Mutations in the gene encoding the protein KCC2 can cause the disease, hereby ...

Neuron responsible for alcoholism found

September 2, 2015

Scientists have pinpointed a population of neurons in the brain that influences whether one drink leads to two, which could ultimately lead to a cure for alcoholism and other addictions.

Scientists see motor neurons 'walking' in real time

September 2, 2015

When you're taking a walk around the block, your body is mostly on autopilot—you don't have to consciously think about alternating which leg you step with or which muscles it takes to lift a foot and put it back down. That's ...

Deciphering the olfactory receptor code

August 31, 2015

In animals, numerous behaviors are governed by the olfactory perception of their surrounding world. Whether originating in the nose of a mammal or the antennas of an insect, perception results from the combined activation ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

hush1
not rated yet Jul 06, 2011
During gestation (approx. the 26th to 28th week) the fused eyelids open. Ascertain what happens. Ascertain if "darkness" is a 'mode' of 'experience'. Ascertain if any light can be brought into the womb - if a uterus wall is opaque to any intensity of light applied to the skin of the subject.
fMRI the fetal brain. All the best.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.