Nav: Home

Mapping of magnetic particles in the human brain

July 31, 2018

Many living organisms, such as migratory birds, are thought to possess a magnetotactic sense, which enables them to respond to the Earth's magnetic field. Whether or not humans are capable of sensing magnetism is the subject of debate. However, several studies have already shown that one of the preconditions required for such a magnetic sensory system is indeed met: magnetic particles exist in the human brain. Now a team led by Stuart A. Gilder (a professor at LMU's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Christoph Schmitz (a professor at LMU's Department of Neuroanatomy) has systematically mapped the distribution of magnetic particles in human post mortem brains. Their findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group)

In their study, the LMU researchers confirmed the presence of magnetic particles in human brains. The particles were found primarily in the cerebellum and the brainstem, and there was striking asymmetry in the distribution between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. "The human brain exploits asymmetries in sensory responses for spatial orientation, and also for sound-source localization," Schmitz explains. The asymmetric distribution of the magnetic particles is therefore compatible with the idea that humans might have a magnetic sensor. But in all probability, this sensor is much too insensitive to serve any useful biological function, he adds. Furthermore, the chemical nature of the magnetic particles remains unknown. "We assume that they are all made of magnetite (Fe3O4), but it is not yet possible to be sure," says Gilder.

The study was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation's "Experiment!" program, which is designed specifically to get daring new research projects, whose ultimate is uncertain, off the ground. The data were obtained from seven human post mortem brains, which had been donated for use in medical research. In all, a total of 822 tissue samples were subjected to magnetometry. The measurements were performed under the supervision of Stuart Gilder in a magnetically shielded laboratory located in a forest 80 km from Munich which is largely free from pervasive magnetic pollution that is characteristic of urban settings nowadays.

In further experiments, the LMU team plans to characterize the properties of the magnetic particles found in human brains. In collaboration with Professor Patrick R. Hof (Fishberg Department of Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York), they also hope to perform analogous localization studies on far larger mammals - whales. These huge marine mammals are known to migrate between feeding and breeding grounds across great distances in the world's oceans. "We want determine whether we can detect magnetic particles in the brains of whales, and if so whether they are also asymmetrically distributed" says Schmitz. "It goes without saying that such studies will be carried out on animals that have died of natural causes."
-end-


Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Related Brain Articles:

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.
BRAIN Initiative tool may transform how scientists study brain structure and function
Researchers have developed a high-tech support system that can keep a large mammalian brain from rapidly decomposing in the hours after death, enabling study of certain molecular and cellular functions.
Wiring diagram of the brain provides a clearer picture of brain scan data
In a study published today in the journal BRAIN, neuroscientists led by Michael D.
Blue Brain Project releases first-ever digital 3D brain cell atlas
The Blue Brain Cell Atlas is like ''going from hand-drawn maps to Google Earth'' -- providing previously unavailable information on major cell types, numbers and positions in all 737 brain regions.
Landmark study reveals no benefit to costly and risky brain cooling after brain injury
A landmark study, led by Monash University researchers, has definitively found that the practice of cooling the body and brain in patients who have recently received a severe traumatic brain injury, has no impact on the patient's long-term outcome.
Brain cells called astrocytes have unexpected role in brain 'plasticity'
Researchers from the Salk Institute have shown that astrocytes -- long-overlooked supportive cells in the brain -- help to enable the brain's plasticity, a new role for astrocytes that was not previously known.
Largest brain study of 62,454 scans identifies drivers of brain aging
In the largest known brain imaging study, scientists from Amen Clinics (Costa Mesa, CA), Google, John's Hopkins University, University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco evaluated 62,454 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans of more than 30,000 individuals from 9 months old to 105 years of age to investigate factors that accelerate brain aging.
More Brain News and Brain Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.