PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] By striking up the right rhythm in the right brain region at the right time, Brown University neuroscientists report in Nature Neuroscience that they managed to endow mice with greater touch sensitivity than other mice, making hard-to-perceive vibrations suddenly more vivid to them.
The findings offer the first direct evidence that "gamma" brainwaves in the cortex affect perception and attention. With only correlations and associations as evidence before, neuroscientists have argued for years about whether gamma has an important role or whether it's merely a byproduct an "exhaust fume" in the words of one of such brain activity.
"There's a lot of excitement about the importance of gamma rhythms in behavior, as well as a lot of skepticism," said co-lead author Joshua Siegle, a former graduate student at Brown University and MIT, who is now at the Allen Institute for Neuroscience. "Rather than try to correlate changes in gamma rhythms with changes in behavior, which is what researchers have done in the past, we chose to directly control the cells that produce gamma."
The result was a mouse with whiskers that were about 20 percent more sensitive.
"There were a lot of ways this experiment could have failed but instead to our surprise it was pretty decisive from the very first subject we looked at that under certain conditions we can make a super-perceiving mouse," said Christopher Moore, associate professor of neuroscience at Brown and senior author of the study. "We're making a mouse do better than a mouse could have done otherwise."
Specifically, Moore and co-first authors Siegle and Dominique Pritchett performed their experiments by using optogenetics a technique of using light to control the firing patterns of neurons to generate a gamma rhythm by manipulating inhibitory interneurons in the primary sensory neocortex of mice. That part of the brain controls a mouse's a
|Contact: David Orenstein|