Brain to rethink, to understand


2017-03-18 10:30:10




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Brain to rethink, to understand

To Understand the human brain — undoubtedly, this is one of the greatest challenges of modern science. The leading approach for most of the last 200 years has been to link brain functions with its various areas or even individual neurons (brain cells). But recent studies increasingly indicate that we can move completely wrong way, trying to understand the human mind.

The Idea that the brain consists of many regions that perform specific tasks, called "modularity". At first she seemed quite successful. For example, it can give an explanation of how we recognize faces, activating a chain of specific brain areas in the occipital and temporal lobes. The body, however, handled completely different set of brain areas. And scientists believe that other regions — memory space — help to combine the perceptual incentives for the creation of holistic views about people. The activity of certain brain regions has also been associated with specific conditions and diseases.

The Reason why this approach was so popular, partly in technologies that provide us an unprecedented breakdown of the brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which monitors changes in blood flow in the brain, allows scientists to see how the activated areas of the brain in response to actions, allowing them to apply the functions to the map. Meanwhile, optogenetics, a method that uses genetic modification of neurons, their electrical activity was monitored using light pulses, can help us to explore their specific contribution to brain function.

Although both approaches give very interesting results, it is unclear whether they will ever provide us with meaningful understanding of the brain. Neuroscientist, which finds a correlation between the neuron or brain area and specific, but in principle arbitrary physical parameter, such as pain, can conclude that this neuron or this part of the brain controls the pain. And it's ironic, because even the most brain inherent in the task of finding correlations in all that he does.

But what if we instead consider the possibility that all brain functions are distributed across the brain and that all parts of the brain contribute to all these functions? If so, the found correlation can be a perfect trap of the intellect. And then we need to solve the problem of how a region or type of neuron with a specific function interacts with other parts of the brain to form a meaningful integrated behavior. There is still no General solution to this problem — only hypotheses for particular cases, for example, recognition of people.

This problem may well illustrate recent study, which showed that the psychedelic drug LSD can disrupt the modular organization, explaining the vision. Moreover, the level of disorganization associated with "personality disorder" that is available to the people at the time of taking the drug. The study showed that the drug affects how multiple brain regions interact with the rest of the brain, increasing their levels of connectedness. So if we ever want to understand what is actually our sense of self, we have to understand the relationships which lie deep between the areas of the brain as part of a complex network.


a Way forward?

Today, some researchers believe that brain disease in General can only be understood as an interaction between a huge number of neurons distributed throughout the Central nervous system. The function of any individual neuron depends on the features of all the thousands of neurons with which it is associated. They, in turn, depend on other. The same region or the same neuron can be involved in a large number of contexts, but have different specific functions depending on the context.

Perhaps it is a tiny violation of these interactions between neurons cause the avalanche effects in networks, which lead to the development of depression or Parkinson's disease. In any case, we need to understand the mechanisms of these networks to understand the causes and symptoms of these diseases. Without the full picture we are unlikely to be able to cure these and many other conditions.

In particular, neuroscience needs to begin to explore, as there are network configuration of the continuous attempts of the brain to understand the world. We also need to get a clear picture of how the cortex, brain stem and the cerebellum interact with the muscles and tens of thousands of optical and mechanical sensors throughout our body, creating a single picture.

Connection with physical reality is the only way to understand how information is represented in the brain. One of the reasons that we have a nervous system, primarily, is that the evolution of mobility requires a management system. Cognitive, mental functions, and even thought — can be seen as mechanisms that have evolved in order to better plan for the effects of movements and actions.

Thus, the way neurology can be more focused on common neural recordings (using optogenetic fMRI), when the goal is not to fix every neuron or brain area for any particular function. This can be used in the theoretical network studies that consider multiple observations and provide an integrated functional explanation. But the theory should help us to design experiments, not just beat around the Bush.


Major obstacles

It will not be easy. Modern technologies are expensive — they invest large financial resources and national and international prestige. Another obstacle is that the human mind tends to prefer simple solutions over more complex, even if the former can explain the results are not as extensively as the latter.

All relationships between neuroscience and the pharmaceutical industry also built on a modular model. The typical strategy when it comes to common neurological and psychiatric diseases is to identify one type of receptor in the brain, which can be targeted medicine to solve the whole problem.

For Example, SSRIs (selective inhibitors of serotonin reuptake), blocking the absorption of serotonin in the brain to a greater number were freely available, currently used to treat a number of different mental health problems, including depression. But they do not work for many patients and can create a placebo effect.

Similarly, epilepsy is now considered a separate disease and is treated with anticonvulsants that inhibit the activity of all neurons. These drugs do not work for all. Any immediate violation in the circuits of the brain — and each patient may have thousands of unique mechanisms of running — can send the brain in an epileptic state.

From this point of view, neuroscience is gradually losing the compass on the path to understanding the brain. We absolutely need to change it. Moreover, it can be a key to understanding some of the biggest mysteries known to science, such as consciousness, but also will help in the treatment of many different diseases and health problems, physical and mental.



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