Nav: Home

The brain learns completely differently than we've assumed since the 20th century

March 23, 2018

The brain is a complex network containing billions of neurons, where each of these neurons communicates simultaneously with thousands of other via their synapses (links). However, the neuron actually collects its many synaptic incoming signals through several extremely long ramified "arms" only, called dendritic trees.

In 1949 Donald Hebb's pioneering work suggested that learning occurs in the brain by modifying the strength of the synapses, whereas neurons function as the computational elements in the brain. This has remained the common assumption until today.

Using new theoretical results and experiments on neuronal cultures, a group of scientists, led by Prof. Ido Kanter, of the Department of Physics and the Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University, has demonstrated that the central assumption for nearly 70 years that learning occurs only in the synapses is mistaken.

In an article published today in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers go against conventional wisdom to show that learning is actually done by several dendrites, similar to the slow learning mechanism currently attributed to the synapses.

"The newly discovered process of learning in the dendrites occurs at a much faster rate than in the old scenario suggesting that learning occurs solely in the synapses. In this new dendritic learning process, there are a few adaptive parameters per neuron, in comparison to thousands of tiny and sensitive ones in the synaptic learning scenario," said Prof. Kanter, whose research team includes Shira Sardi, Roni Vardi, Anton Sheinin, Amir Goldental and Herut Uzan.

The newly suggested learning scenario indicates that learning occurs in a few dendrites that are in much closer proximity to the neuron, as opposed to the previous notion. "Does it make sense to measure the quality of air we breathe via many tiny, distant satellite sensors at the elevation of a skyscraper, or by using one or several sensors in close proximity to the nose? Similarly, it is more efficient for the neuron to estimate its incoming signals close to its computational unit, the neuron," says Kanter. Hebb's theory has been so deeply rooted in the scientific world for 70 years that no one has ever proposed such a different approach. Moreover, synapses and dendrites are connected to the neuron in a series, so the exact localized site of the learning process seemed irrelevant.

Another important finding of the study is that weak synapses, previously assumed to be insignificant even though they comprise the majority of our brain, play an important role in the dynamics of our brain. They induce oscillations of the learning parameters rather than pushing them to unrealistic fixed extremes, as suggested in the current synaptic learning scenario.

The new learning scenario occurs in different sites of the brain and therefore calls for a reevaluation of current treatments for disordered brain functionality. Hence, the popular phrase "neurons that fire together wire together", summarizing Donald Hebb's 70-year-old hypothesis, must now be rephrased. In addition, the learning mechanism is at the basis of recent advanced machine learning and deep learning achievements. The change in the learning paradigm opens new horizons for different types of deep learning algorithms and artificial intelligence based applications imitating our brain functions, but with advanced features and at a much faster speed.
-end-
On publication, the paper will be available online at www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23471-7.

Bar-Ilan University

Related Neurons Articles:

New tool to identify and control neurons
One of the big challenges in the Neuroscience field is to understand how connections and communications trigger our behavior.
Neurons that regenerate, neurons that die
In a new study published in Neuron, investigators report on a transcription factor that they have found that can help certain neurons regenerate, while simultaneously killing others.
How neurons use crowdsourcing to make decisions
When many individual neurons collect data, how do they reach a unanimous decision?
Neurons can learn temporal patterns
Individual neurons can learn not only single responses to a particular signal, but also a series of reactions at precisely timed intervals.
A turbo engine for tracing neurons
Putting a turbo engine into an old car gives it an entirely new life -- suddenly it can go further, faster.
Brain neurons help keep track of time
Turning the theory of how the human brain perceives time on its head, a novel analysis in mice reveals that dopamine neuron activity plays a key role in judgment of time, slowing down the internal clock.
During infancy, neurons are still finding their places
Researchers have identified a large population of previously unrecognized young neurons that migrate in the human brain during the first few months of life, contributing to the expansion of the frontal lobe, a region important for social behavior and executive function.
How many types of neurons are there in the brain?
For decades, scientists have struggled to develop a comprehensive census of cell types in the brain.
Molecular body guards for neurons
In the brain, patterns of neural activity are perfectly balanced.
Engineering researchers use laser to 'weld' neurons
University of Alberta researchers have developed a method of connecting neurons, using ultrashort laser pulses -- a breakthrough technique that opens the door to new medical research and treatment opportunities.

Related Neurons Reading:

The Neuron: Cell and Molecular Biology
by Irwin B. Levitan (Author), Leonard K. Kaczmarek (Author)

Mirror Neurons Will Save Your Life: How To Stop Being Controlled By Other People

From Neuron to Brain (5th Ed)
by John G. Nicholls (Author), A. Robert Martin (Author), David A. Brown (Author), Mathew E. Diamond (Author), David A. Weisblat (Author), Paul A. Fuchs (Author)

The Neuron: Cell and Molecular Biology
by Irwin B. Levitan (Author), Leonard K. Kaczmarek (Author)

From Neurons to Neighborhoods : The Science of Early Childhood Development
by Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development (Author), Youth, and Families Board on Children (Author), National Research Council (Author), Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development (Author), Jack P. Shonkoff (Editor), Deborah A. Phillips (Editor)

Neurons in Action 2: Tutorials and Simulations using NEURON
by John W. Moore (Author), Ann E. Stuart (Author)

From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary (BCYF 25th Anniversary)
by National Research Council (Author), Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (Author), Institute of Medicine (Author), Youth, and Families Board on Children (Author), Steve Olson (Editor)

The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition
by W. W. Norton & Company

Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will
by Nancey Murphy (Author), Warren S. Brown (Author)

I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self
by Rodolfo R. Llinas (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Approaching With Kindness
We often forget to say the words "thank you." But can those two words change how you — and those around you — look at the world? This hour, TED speakers on the power of gratitude and appreciation. Guests include author AJ Jacobs, author and former baseball player Mike Robbins, Dr. Laura Trice, Professor of Management Christine Porath, and former Danish politician Özlem Cekic.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#509 Anisogamy: The Beginning of Male and Female
This week we discuss how the sperm and egg came to be, and how a difference of reproductive interest has led to sexual conflict in bed bugs. We'll be speaking with Dr. Geoff Parker, an evolutionary biologist credited with developing a theory to explain the evolution of two sexes, about anisogamy, sexual reproduction through the fusion of two different gametes: the egg and the sperm. Then we'll speak with Dr. Roberto Pereira, research scientist in urban entomology at the University of Florida, about traumatic insemination in bed bugs.