Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Neural Waves Ahoy

We're getting a lot of amazing brain data from epilepsy science these days (like the first evidence of brain death under EEG). 

Because epilepsy patients undergo an entire week of EEG monitoring prior to treatment (so the doctors can "get familiar with" their brainwaves), other scientists ask to bother them with experiments that have nothing to do with epilepsy. Like olfaction experiments. So the patients volunteer to have the data from their brainwave monitoring used by researchers while they squirt smell molecules at their face. 

Olfactory processing in three distinct neural waves
Feb 2022, phys.org

Now we ask whether different oscillations represent distinct features of an odor, or if different odors are represented by different oscillations," Zelano said

They're talking about neural oscillations. 

Neurons in visual and auditory systems usually operate at a background hum of excitability, but when the brain is trying to see or hear something, these neurons are activated in sync.

But the olfactory cortex is hard to study because it's literally in the center of the brain (and that's because it is like the seed from which our big ass brain grew out of). Brainwaves can be detected non-invasively, so that's great. 

The low-frequency oscillations, termed theta waves, begin immediately after a volunteer sniffed and ended immediately afterwards. Theta waves were followed by two more sets of waves, beta (about 12-30 Hz) and gamma waves (above 30 Hz).

This raises the possibility of a two-step process, where the low-frequency waves "prime" the olfactory cortex and the high-frequency waves are responsible for olfactory processing.

"Low-frequency waves are used for communications between brain regions and high frequency oscillation is more involved in local computations, but it's very exciting to find a low-frequency oscillation motivating a high-frequency oscillation," said Guangyu Zhou, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Neurology and a co-corresponding author of the study.

Oh but this part is even better:

Further, the strength of the high-frequency waves was associated with volunteers' ability to correctly identify odors.

"This implies the higher-frequency oscillations are required to actually distinguish the odor one is smelling," Qiaohan Yang, MS, student in the Northwestern Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (NUIN) and lead author of the study.

via Northwestern University's Comprehensive Epilepsy Center: Qiaohan Yang et al, Smell-induced gamma oscillations in human olfactory cortex are required for accurate perception of odor identity, PLOS Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001509

Post Script, On Epilepsy:
Who knew that treating epilepsy would lead to such novel discoveries? Why is C. elegans or D. melonigaster so important for specific things, or how is the naming of the limbic system itself a kind of word-monster that grew out of our heavy reliance on rats during the concurrent explosion of olfactory science in the Behavioral era, and rats have a brain that is dominated by olfaction, and it basically controls the movements of their body, hence their limbs, and so the olfactory system was called the limbic system. Why rats? Why fruitflies? Why epilepsy? 

Life may actually flash before your eyes on death
Feb 2022, BBC News

First-ever recording of a dying brain discovered by accident. 

"This was actually totally by chance, we did not plan to do this experiment or record these signals."

This is also one of the reasons why it is important to care for every human equally, regardless of what happened to them. You're born without an immune system? We're keeping you alive as long as we can. Paraplegic? We're giving you wifi for your body

You have epilepsy? We're going to slap some electrodes to your head and monitor your brainwaves for a really, really long time, and figure out how to help you. Unless you have a heart attack in the headset, in which case we'll watch what happens, and use your accident to further the advancement of science. 

via Department of Neurosurgery, Henan Provincial People’s Hospital, Division of Neurosurgery, Vancouver General Hospital: Vicente Raul et al. Enhanced Interplay of Neuronal Coherence and Coupling in the Dying Human Brain. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 14 2022. DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2022.813531.

Why C. elegans? They have only 302 neurons, that's why.

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