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Pitt, Berkeley researchers reconstruct seashells to model nervous system function
Date:4/9/2009

PITTSBURGHThe enchantingly colored seashells that lend beaches their charm could also provide information about how the brain converts memories and sensory information into action, according to research from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Pittsburgh published online April 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

G. Bard Ermentrout, a University Professor of Mathematics at Pitt, worked with the paper's lead author, Berkeley graduate student Alistair Boettiger, and Berkeley biophysicist George Oster to model the neural network of mollusks and design a computer program that can generate the complex patterns and shapes of most mollusk shells. The researchers traced the trail of brain activity that begins with a mollusk's tongue-like organ called a mantle and leads to the cells that produce the shell and pigmentation. They supposed that as mollusks build their shells, they retrace their previous work with the mantle and use those "memories" to continue the pattern. At the same time, the new pigment and shell growth are influenced by external factors resulting in the varied patterns and shell structure seen in nature.

Boettiger, Ermentrout, and Oster simulated the neural network with integral equations that, like the mollusk, retrace the previous pattern, but can be manipulated to accurately predict how a shell will form under specific conditions. The resulting models help illustrate how neural networksincluding mammalian corticesfunction in response to a combination of sensory information and past experience, the team reported in PNAS. The project was supported by the National Science Foundation.

"These models demonstrate the combined influence of sensory input and memories on brain activity," Ermentrout said. "Brains convert sensory information into action. If a ball is thrown at you, you duck or catch it because you know that the ball could hit you. That knowle
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mekelly@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh
Source:Eurekalert

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