Article published by Around the O
By listening in on the background chatter in the brain, scientists can predict the relationships between different neurons, according to new research. The advance could help make deep brain stimulation (DBS)–an emerging treatment for certain neurological and psychiatric conditions that haven’t responded to other treatments–a more viable treatment for conditions like Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and depression. In DBS, electrodes are surgically implanted into the brain so that they stimulate specific neural circuits, alleviating symptoms, but finding the right spot to stimulate involves a lot of trial and error, which is both costly and risky. To untangle this problem within the complexity of the brain, researchers found inspiration in the field of ecology by studying a set of mathematical equations originally developed to understand how fluctuating ocean temperatures were affecting fish populations. Those equations are designed to untangle cause-and-effect relationships between different variables that might seem unlinked on the surface. The researchers found they could use the same methods in the brain, to predict relationships between certain brain circuits by looking for patterns in the spontaneous background activity of neurons. Their mathematical modeling accurately mapped relationships between neurons and allowed scientists to predict the effects of stimulation in certain places. Eventually, team members hope their research will lead to improved treatments for complex neurological conditions, via DBS or even brain-machine interfaces that allow two-way communication between a brain and a computer.