Hidden variations in neuronal networks may explain traumatic brain injury outcomes

brain
White matter fiber architecture of the brain. Credit: Human Connectome Project.

A team of researchers at the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University has discovered that hidden differences in the properties of neural circuits can account for whether animals are behaviorally susceptible to brain injury. These results could have implications for the treatment of brain trauma.

People vary in their responses to stroke and trauma, which impedes the ability of physicians to predict . Damage to the brain and nervous system can lead to severe disabilities, including epilepsy and cognitive impairment.

If doctors could predict outcomes with greater accuracy, patients might benefit from more tailored treatments. Unfortunately, the complexity of the hinders efforts to explain why similar brain damage can affect each person differently.

The researchers used a unique research animal, a sea slug called Tritonia diomedea, to study this question. This animal was used because unlike humans, it has a small number of neurons and its behavior is simple. Despite this simplicity, the animals varied in how neurons were connected.

Under normal conditions, this variability did not matter to the animals' behavior, but when a major pathway in the brain was severed, some of the animals showed little behavioral deficit, while others could not produce the behavior being studied. Remarkably, the researchers could artificially rewire the neural circuit using computer-generated connections and make animals susceptible or invulnerable to the injury.

"This study is important in light of the current Obama BRAIN initiative, which seeks to map all of the connections in the human brain," said Georgia State professor, Paul Katz, who led the research project. "it shows that even in a simple brain, small differences that have no effect under normal conditions, have major implications when the nervous system is challenged by injury or trauma."

More information: Sakurai A, Tamvacakis AN, Katz PS. (2014). Hidden synaptic differences in a neural circuit underlie differential behavioral susceptibility to a neural injury, eLife 10.7554/eLife.02598

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Have a brain injury? You may be at higher risk for stroke

Jun 26, 2013

People who have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may be more likely to have a future stroke, according to research that appears in the June 26, 2013, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neu ...

Sleep loss causes brain vulnerability to toxic elements

Jun 10, 2014

To answer the question of why we have to sleep, research conducted at the Mexican Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM) revealed that chronic sleep loss can cause certain neurotoxic molecules, which normally ...

Recommended for you

Link seen between seizures and migraines in the brain

9 hours ago

Seizures and migraines have always been considered separate physiological events in the brain, but now a team of engineers and neuroscientists looking at the brain from a physics viewpoint discovered a link ...

Neuroscience: Why scratching makes you itch more

15 hours ago

Turns out your mom was right: Scratching an itch only makes it worse. New research from scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that scratching causes the brain to release ...

User comments

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.