Drumroll, Please! NYSCF Innovator Discovers That Neurons Fire in a Percussion-Like Pattern
New research shows that our neurons aren’t firing in a random electrical storm of activity—they’re following a controlled pattern. NYSCF — Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Alumnus and MIT professor Ed Boyden, PhD, and collaborators at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggest that neurons are firing in a sequence that resembles a drumroll leading up to a cymbal crash.
The researchers were able to record the firing patterns of neurons in the hippocampus, a specific region of the brain, by using a method called patch clamping. A patch clamp is a minuscule, hollow glass needle that latches onto a single neuron and records its activity.
The team found that neurons always show low levels of activity similar to that of a drumroll oscillating between softer and louder volumes. When the drumroll reaches its peak, the neuron fires (like a cymbal crash). The neuron doesn’t fire every time it reaches this peak, but rather every few times. And once it fires, it can prompt neurons around it to fire too.
Scientists used to think that neurons fired for only a few milliseconds at a time. They also thought neurons essentially fired at random before firing together in an abrupt organization to carry out certain functions. But this study revealed that neurons show rumbling and spikes of activity that last up to a full second and follow a consistent pattern.
The study focused on cells that contribute to memory, and further research will address how exactly the cells’ distinct firing pattern contributes to memory formation and preservation.