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Slow brain waves play key role in coordinating complex activity

ing to a list of words, the slow, theta oscillations in the hearing area of the brain become coupled with the fast, high-gamma oscillations in the same area. When two different brain areas then oscillate together at the same theta frequency and phase, it becomes much easier for these regions to tune in the high-gamma oscillations that transfer information between them.

"One theory about how the brain is organized says that there is a hierarchy of oscillations that can control how one neuron talks to another neuron, or how one brain area talks to another brain area," said lead author Ryan Canolty, a UC Berkeley graduate student in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. "Our study was designed to test the idea that the high-frequency oscillations generated by the brain are coupled to the slower theta oscillations.

"This coupling is important because the two rhythms have different functions and operate on different spatial scales - a patch of high frequency activity is very localized, about the size of a dime or smaller on the brain, and is associated with bottom-up sensory or motor processing, while the theta rhythm is much more spatially widespread, the size of a silver dollar or larger on the surface of the cortex, and is tied to top-down executive processes like attention and memory. Coupling between these two rhythms could be what gives the brain a way to connect low-level perceptions and actions to high-level goals and intentions."

Brain waves - such as the slow alpha waves of the relaxed or idling brain or the fast, seemingly random pulses accompanying dream sleep - are generated by coordinated firing of neurons in the brain triggered by waves of excitability that wash over an area. Waves of excitability in the theta range of oscillations lower the threshold for neuron firing, making it more likely that input arriving at the critical time will make neurons in that area of the brain fire.

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Source:University of California - Berkeley


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