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Discovery provides new way to see brain cells in action

Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), researchers can now see the network of continuous interactions in the brain. Each of the dots seen here represents a sensor. Green indicates positive synchronous interactions and red indicates negative interactions.

Minnesota researchers have discovered a novel way to assess the dynamic interactions of brain networks acting in synchrony on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis.

All behavior and cognition in the brain involves networks of nerves continuously interacting. Because these interactions in the brain happen at lightning speed, it has been difficult to accurately assess them. Current methods, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), take seconds to detect such activity — way too slow.

But Apostolos Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., and two research colleagues used magnetoencepha-lography (MEG) to record tiny magnetic fields from the brain during a short period of time. They studied this interaction in subjects who looked at a spot of light. Georgopoulos used MEG data from 248 sensors to detect the changing interactions over time. These measurements represent the workings of tens of thousands of brain cells.

“This discovery will allow researchers to better evaluate the brain functions of people with various diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” says Georgopoulos, “and to monitor the effect of treatment by assessing the status of the brain networks over time.”

Georgopoulos is a Regents professor and professor of neuroscience, neurology, and psychiatry. He’s also a member of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

This latest discovery was published in the January 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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