Before she could seek to convince the world that her computer model of a key brain circuit explains a fundamental, 80-year-old mystery of neuroscience with potential relevance to Parkinson's disease, Stephanie Jones sought to convince Christopher Moore. The new Brown neuroscience professors are now close collaborators, but when they first started talking about the beta oscillations of the cortex, Moore thought Jones was plain wrong, if not a bit nuts.
"I was a complete non-believer," he said. "I told her I didn't think this idea could be right."
Jones retorted, "Now he's testing the model's predictions."
What Jones and Moore now agree upon and will seek to prove with an $830,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded this month is that neurons in the cortex experience beta oscillations (cycles of activity at a rate of about 20 times a second) when they receive a combination of two input signals in just the right two places at the right time and with the right strength. The signals, they believe, originate from the distant basal ganglia and reach the cortex by way of the thalamus.
The research sounds arcane and technical, but these beta oscillations are powerful and meaningful phenomena that have eluded explanation since they were first detected nearly a century ago. Abnormally strong beta oscillations in the cortex are directly associated with Parkinson's disease. The waves seem to increase as we age, even in healthy people. And when the region of the brain that processes the sense of touch, say in the fingers, is overwhelmed by beta oscillations, the processing doesn't happen.
"If you have the beta rhythm in the sensory cortex, our data strongly suggest you will fail at a perceptual task," Moore said, recalling a past human experiment. "You can be sitting here and you tell me you are trying, I know you are trying, you are pushing buttons just like you are trying, but if your cortex happens to show beta right wh
|Contact: David Orenstein|