In stunning new discovery researchers from Germany and Greece has found a new form of cell messaging system inside the human brain. The discovery suggests our brains are more computationally capable than we initially thought.
Researchers have found a mechanism in our brain’s outer cortical cells that produces signals that have been never observed before. These unique signals make it possible for individual neurons to carry out logical functions in a completely different way.
The research used tissue sections from epileptic patients removed during surgery. Upon analyzing them using fluorescent microscopy, the team found that the cortex was also using calcium to fire ions other than the usual sodium.
This led them to discover something now known as calcium-mediated dendritic action potentials, or dCaAPs.
The everyday computers we use electrical voltage to carry out its various operations.They perform it by regulating the flow of electrons through transistors.
Our brains can also be compared to these computers to an extent with some minor differences. In brains, signals are generated chemically in the form of opening and closing channels through the exchange of charged particles such as sodium, chloride, and potassium.
The pulse of flowing charged particles is called an action potential. Each neuron manages these electrically charged microscopic communication ends of their branches called dendrites.
When sufficient action potential is reached, a message can pass on from one neuron to the other. The action potential differences translate into two types of messages:
1. And Message: If conditions a and b are triggered the message gets passed on
2. OR Message: If a or b is triggered the message is passed on.
These two simple logic sets define the functioning of our brain. Other complex logic was seen as a product of neuron networks. The newly discovered dCaAPs changes this notion.
Apart from being a calcium-mediated action-potential, dCaAps allows each neuron to act as an “exclusive” OR (XOR). An XOR logic permits a signal only when another signal is graded in a particular fashion.
The research team hooked up the brain tissues to a somatodendritic patch-clamp to send action potentials up and down each neuron, recording their signals. It is here where they observed dCaAps for the first time.
To ensure this wasn’t a product of epilepsy, the team also checked for the signals in samples taken from brain tumours.
Further research is needed to evaluate how dCaAps behave across our living systems and whether the signals are specific to human brains. In future, we might be able to answer the question of how exactly the XOR logic from neurons serves higher-order functions in human beings. Understanding our brains will also allow us to develop better networking hardware in future.