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Using synthetic evolution to study the brain: Researchers model key part of neurons
Date:10/2/2009

o make 100 more models. Thousands of generations later they get a model that matches the characteristics of the real thing. Researchers have used this technique in modeling before, but Kath and colleagues introduced a new twist: they allowed the structure of the model (not just its parameters) to be "mutated" during the "breeding".

"In the end, the computer found a quite simple state-dependent model for the sodium channels that provides a very accurate behavior on short time scales and out to several seconds, as well," Kath says. Their results were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Modeling of even this small a process is important, Spruston says, because it helps scientists understand the important details about how the brain works.

"We want to make sure we truly understand how these channels work by building a model that can recapitulate all the features we've observed," he says. "Making computer models is a way of identifying both what you understand and also where the gaps in your knowledge need to be filled. The cool thing is you're taking a page from a part of biology evolution and applying it to another part of biology neurobiology and using the computer in the middle."

The neurons the group studied are in the hippocampal region of the brain, which researchers have identified as being important for memory.

"If you want to understand how this neural circuit is processing information and memory, you have to understand how these neurons behave in different situations," Kath says. "If you leave out key details, you might miss something important."


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Contact: Kyle Delaney
k-delaney@northwestern.edu
847-467-4010
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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