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Dodging dots helps explain brain circuitry
Date:7/7/2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] A neuroscience study provides new insight into the primal brain circuits involved in collision avoidance, and perhaps a more general model of how neurons can participate in networks to process information and act on it.

In the study, Brown University neuroscientists tracked the cell-by-cell progress of neural signals from the eyes through the brains of tadpoles as they saw and reacted to stimuli including an apparently approaching black circle. In so doing, the researchers were able to gain a novel understanding of how individual cells contribute in a broader network that distinguishes impending collisions.

The basic circuitry involved is present in a wide variety of animals, including people, which is no surprise given how fundamental collision avoidance is across animal behavior.

"Imagine yourself walking in a forest while keeping a conversation with your friend," said Arseny Khakhalin, neuroscience postdoctoral scholar at Brown and lead author of the study in the European Journal of Neuroscience. "You can totally keep the conversation going, and at the same time avoid tree trunks and shrubs without even thinking about them consciously. That's because you have a whole region in your brain that is dedicated, among other things, to this task."

Turning tail

To learn how collision avoidance works, Khakhalin studied the task using tadpoles as a model organism, because as senior author and neuroscience professor Carlos Aizenman put it, they are "sufficiently complex to produce interesting behavior, but have nervous systems sufficiently simple to address in an integrated experimental approach."

They started with the avoidance behavior. With tadpoles in a dish atop a screen, they projected digital black dots, representing virtual objects, of varying widths, at varying speeds and angles of approach. They also just flashed dots in place. The tadpoles would fle
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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