The neurological models will outline the typical course of activity in various brain regions, communication among brain cells, and time-dependent changes in the synapsesthe small gaps between cells through which they communicate. The team will look for how electrical signals and brain waves transmit between brain cells and, in turn, the manner in which those impulses alter the cells.
One clinical application, Rubin said, would be for improving therapies for neurological conditions, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), which manipulates brain activity via a surgically implanted device that emits electric pulses. Despite DBS' effectiveness in treating such conditions as chronic pain and Parkinson's disease, how it works remains unknown, Rubin said. Once the pathways of brain activity are exposed, he continued, doctors could observe how DBS functions and better control the electrical currents to avoid the known psychological side effects.
The complicated models simulate the extensive, constant interaction of various cells and organs operating on multiple time scales, from the immeasurably swift to a full day. The complexity of these models will require the development of new simulation and mathematical techniques, but the work could apply to several other biological systems.
"We're exploring mathematical and computational territory that has not been understood yet," Rubin said. "For instance, the brain contains millions of neurons that in turn contain very small molecules [neurotransmitters]. This network functions on a time scale measured in submilliseconds, a scale so small that no one can really grasp how short it is. At the same time, the brain manages and abides by the circadian rhythm, the body's 24-hour cycle.
"If we make a breakthrough on how to map these time sca
|Contact: Morgan Kelly|
University of Pittsburgh