A century-old assumption regarding brain activity is mistaken, a group of physic scientists, led by Prof. Ido Kanter, of Bar-Ilan University, have concluded.
The group’s result goes against conventional wisdom to show that each neuron (brain cells) functions as a collection of excitable elements, where each excitable element is sensitive to the directionality of the origin of the input signal.
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As result, Prof. Kanter has demonstrated that the traditional claim that learning occurs only in the synapses (links) between neurons is mistaken.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists show that learning is actually done by several dendrites (the structures on the neuron that receive electrical messages), similar to the slow learning mechanism currently attributed to the synapses (links).
Two weak inputs from different directions (e.g., “left” and “right”) will not sum up to generate a spike, while a strong input from “left” will generate a different spike waveform than that from the “right”.
“We reached this conclusion using a new experimental setup, but in principle these results could have been discovered using technology that has existed since the 1980s. The belief that has been rooted in the scientific world for 100 years resulted in this delay of several decades,” said Prof. Kanter.
The new results call for a re-examination of neuronal functionalities beyond the traditional framework and, in particular, for an examination into the origin of degenerative diseases. Neurons which are incapable of differentiating between “left” and “right” — similar to distortions in the entire human body — might be a starting point for discovering the origin of these diseases.
The new realization for the computational scheme of a neuron calls into question the spike sorting technique which is at the center of activity of hundreds of laboratories and thousands of scientific studies in neuroscience. This method was mainly invented to overcome the technological barrier to measure the activity from many neurons simultaneously, using the assumption that each neuron tends to fire spikes of a particular waveform which serves as its own electrical signature. However, this assumption, which resulted from enormous scientific efforts and resources, is now questioned by the work of Kanter’s lab.