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

The human brain has evolved over millions of years to become a vast network of billions of neurons and synaptic connections. Understanding it is one of humankind's greatest pursuits.

But to understand how the brain processes information, researchers must first understand the very basics of neurons even down to how proteins inside the neurons act to change the neuron's voltage.

To do so requires a balance of experimentation and computer modeling a partnership across disciplines traversed by Bill Kath, professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Nelson Spruston, professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The two have worked together for more than a decade, with Spruston designing experiments and Kath developing computer models that explain the results that Spruston found. (It also works the other way: Kath's models have provided Spruston with ideas to test experimentally.)

Spruston has been studying ion channels of neurons that change their shape when activated, allowing sodium to enter from outside the neuron. This changes the voltage of the neuron, causing the neuron to fire and send off a chain of neural activity within the brain. The difficulty in modeling such behavior lies in the time scale over which this happens anywhere from fractions of a millisecond out to several seconds.

So the two, along with graduate student Vilas Menon, took a cue from nature and used the process of evolution to study one of evolution's greatest achievements.

Evolutionary algorithms work like this: rather than making one model, researchers make 100 models with many different parameters. They then run those models (using high-speed computers) and compare the results to the experimental data to see how well they match. Researchers then keep the best traits of different models and mix and match (breeding) to 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."


'/>"/>

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

Related medicine news :

1. Using Your Immune System to Fight Cancer
2. Teen attitudes toward smoking linked to likelihood of drinking and using drugs
3. Old Colony Elder Services Launches Supportive Housing Program in Plymouth
4. Analysis Shows Narrow Age Rating Would Raise Premiums by Nearly 50 Percent, Causing Many Young and Healthy to Forgo Coverage
5. Study looks at using the immune system to reduce prostate cancer risk
6. Louisiana's TCA Cellular Therapy's Findings Reported at World Stem Cell Summit -- Patients' Legs Saved from Amputation Using Adult Stem Cells
7. Heritage Provider Network and Dr. Richard Merkin Highlight Cutting Health Care Costs Using Electronic Medical Records
8. Florida Clinicians Now Delivering Non-Invasive Image-Guided Treatments Using Novalis Tx(TM) Radiosurgery Technology
9. Hormone promises to keep joint injuries from causing long-term osteoarthritis
10. UCSB researchers develop drug delivery system using nanoparticles and lasers
11. Using insects to test for drug safety
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... 24, 2016 , ... Those who have experienced traumatic events may suffer from ... avenues, such as drug or alcohol abuse, as a coping mechanism. To avoid this ... coping following a traumatic event. , Trauma sufferers tend to feel a range of ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... PASADENA, CA (PRWEB) , ... June 24, 2016 , ... Marcy was in a crisis. ... he would lash out at his family verbally and physically. , “When something upset him, ... table, he would use it. He would throw rocks at my other children and say ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... ... Global law firm Greenberg Traurig, P.A. announced that 20 Florida attorneys are ... for this recognition are considered among the top 2 percent of lawyers practicing within ... of this year’s Legal Elite Hall of Fame: Miami Shareholders Mark D. Bloom, ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... Comfort Keepers® of San Diego, CA is excited ... To Recovery® program to drive cancer patients to and from their cancer treatments. ... highest quality of life and ongoing independence. Getting to and from medical treatments ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , ... June 24, 2016 , ... People across the ... Genome magazine’s Code Talker Award, an essay contest in which patients and their families ... to be presented at the 2016 National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) Annual Education ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... Tenn. , June 24, 2016  Arkis ... providing less invasive and more durable cerebrospinal fluid ... in funding.  The Series-A funding is led by ... Lighthouse Fund, and other private investors.  Arkis, new ... neurosurgical instrumentation and the market release of its ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Research and Markets has announced ... Type (Organic Chemical (Sugar, Petrochemical, Glycerin), Inorganic Chemical), Functionality ... - Global Forecast to 2021" report to their ... global pharmaceutical excipients market is projected to reach USD ... in the forecast period 2016 to 2021. ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ANGELES , June 23, 2016 ... CAPR ), a biotechnology company focused ... therapeutics, today announced that patient enrollment in its ... in Duchenne) has exceeded 50% of its 24-patient ... enrollment in the third quarter of 2016, and ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: