Study provides new insights about brain organization

February 19, 2004

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - New evidence in animals suggests that theories about how the brain processes sight, sound and touch may need updating. Researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues report their findings in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using electrodes smaller than a human hair, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist and the University of California at San Francisco recorded individual cell activity in the brains of 31 adult rats. Their goal was to test two conflicting ideas about brain organization.

"One theory is that individual senses have separate areas of the brain dedicated to them," said Mark Wallace, Ph.D., the study's lead investigator. "In this view, information is processed initially on a sense-by-sense basis and doesn't come together until much later. However, this view has recently been challenged by studies showing that processing in the visual area of the brain, for example, can be influenced by hearing and touch."

Wallace and colleagues created a map of the rat cerebral cortex, the part of the brain believed responsible for perception. The map was created to show how different areas respond to sight, sound and touch. They found that while large regions are overwhelming devoted to processing information from a single sense, in the borders between them, cells can share information from both senses.

"This represents a new view of how the brain is organized," said Wallace, an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist.

He said these multisensory cells might also help explain how individuals who suffer a loss of one sense early in their life often develop greater acuity in their remaining senses.

"Imaging studies in humans show that when sight is lost at a young age, a portion of the brain that had been dedicated to sight begins to process sound and touch. It is possible that this change begins in these multisensory border regions, where cells that are normally responsive to these different senses are already found."

Wallace said the finding is also important because it suggests that the process of integrating sensory information might happen faster in the cerebral cortex than was previously thought. Wallace said that the ultimate goal of this research is to understand how the integration of multiple senses results in our behaviors and perceptions.

"It should come as no surprise when I say that we live in a multisensory world, being constantly bombarded with information from many senses. What is a bit of a surprise is that although we now know a great deal about how the brain processes information from the individual senses to form our perceptions, we're still in the early stages of understanding how this happens between the different senses. "

Wallace's co-researchers were Barry Stein, Ph.D., professor and chairman of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist, and Ramnarayan Ramachandran at the University of California.
-end-
The project was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Media Contacts: Robert Conn (rconn@wfubmc.edu), Karen Richardson (krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu) or Shannon Koontz (skoontz@wfubmc.edu) 336-716-4587.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. It is licensed to operate 1,282 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" by U.S. News & World Report.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.