Sep 16, 2022 – Throughout the day, your brain cells send and receive messages through electrical and chemical signals. These messages help you do things like move your muscles and use your senses – while tasting your food, feeling the heat from the stove, or reading the words on this page.
If we can better understand how these messages are sent and received, we will gain powerful insights into the connection between the brain and the body and shed light on what happens at these connections. it’s not Action – as with brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
To that end, neuroscientists at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles have built computer models of individual brain cells — the most complex to date, they say. Use of high performance computing and artificial intelligence or artificial intelligence models as described in the magazine cell reportspicks up the shape, timing, and speed of electrical signals fired by brain cells called neurons.
The new research is part of a decades-long quest among scientists to understand the inner workings of the brain, not just cognitively but biologically, genetically and electrically.
The most famous early researchers are Alan Lloyd Hodgkin, Andrew Fielding Huxley, and John Caro Eccles, the 1963 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discoveries about nerve cell membranes.
“Today is a unique moment when detailed single-neuron data sets are available in large quantities and for multiple cells,” says study author Kostas Anastasio, PhD, a research scientist in the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai. Today’s volume and speed“Computers allow us to explore [detailed] Mechanisms at the single-cell level – for each cell.”
How can you model brain cell activity using a computer?
It turns out that the electrical impulses that neurons use to communicate can be repeated using computer code.
“We replicated the distinct voltage waveforms and time trajectories of these pulses using mathematical equations,” Anastasio says, and then built computer models using data sets from experiments on mice.
These experiments measure certain things in cells — such as their size, shape, and structure, or how they respond to changes. Each cell model brings together all of these elements and can help reveal how they are connected.
Computer models can reconcile two important pieces of information: the cellular composition (the building blocks of brain cells) and the patterns observed during brain activity. With the help of a computer, the links between data sets become clear. Researchers say this could help pave the way for discovering what causes the brain to change — a critical step when looking at disorders.
What can computers tell us about the human brain?
One exciting potential use of brain cell models is to test all kinds of theories about brain disorders that are difficult or impossible to generate through in vitro experiments. Moreover, the work could lead to new insights about the brain: how similar or different brain cells are, what connects them or makes them different, and what that means across a range of characteristics.
Computers and mathematics tell stories about the brain, and for him, Anastasio says, the magic comes from the simplicity of the result and the richness of its effect.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the question of how mathematical equations represent living, computational, and biological cells—particularly for the brain, the center of what makes us human,” he says.