Newswise — It has long been acknowledged that the imprints of encounters are imprinted in the brain's interconnections, but a groundbreaking investigation by scientists at DZNE and TUD Dresden University of Technology has unveiled the magnitude of these impacts. The discoveries in rodents offer unparalleled comprehension of the intricacy of extensive neural networks and cerebral flexibility. Furthermore, they may lay the groundwork for novel artificial intelligence techniques inspired by the brain. The outcomes, derived from an inventive "brain-on-chip" technology, are documented in the scholarly publication "Biosensors and Bioelectronics."
The researchers from Dresden investigated the impact of enriched experiences on the brain's circuitry. To accomplish this, they utilized a neurochip containing over 4,000 electrodes, capable of detecting the electrical activity of brain cells. This innovative platform facilitated the simultaneous recording of the firing of thousands of neurons. The studied region, which was smaller than a human fingernail, encompassed an entire mouse hippocampus. This brain region, crucial for learning and memory in both mice and humans, is particularly vulnerable to diseases such as Alzheimer's. To conduct the study, the scientists compared brain tissue from mice that were raised under different conditions. One group was reared in standard cages without any stimulating factors, while the other group inhabited an "enriched environment" equipped with rearrangeable toys and maze-like plastic tubes.
"The outcomes surpassed our initial expectations," expressed Dr. Hayder Amin, the study's principal investigator and a specialist in neuroelectronics and computational neuroscience. Amin leads a research team at DZNE and was instrumental in developing the technology and analysis tools employed in this research. He summarized the findings by stating, "In simple terms, it can be said that the neurons of mice exposed to an enriched environment exhibited significantly greater interconnectedness compared to those raised in standard housing conditions. Regardless of the parameter we examined, a more stimulating experience directly enhanced connections within the neuronal networks. These results imply that leading an active and diverse lifestyle has a profound impact on shaping the brain in unprecedented ways."
Unprecedented Insight into Brain Networks
Professor Gerd Kempermann, a co-leader of the study and an expert in exploring how physical and cognitive activity promotes the brain's resilience against aging and neurodegenerative diseases, emphasized the novelty of their research approach. He stated, "Previous knowledge in this field was primarily derived from studies utilizing single electrodes or imaging techniques like magnetic resonance imaging. However, the spatial and temporal resolution of these methods is considerably coarser compared to our approach. With our methodology, we can observe the circuitry in action, down to the level of individual cells. By employing advanced computational tools, we were able to extract an extensive amount of information about network dynamics in both space and time from our recordings."
"We have unveiled a treasure trove of data that highlights the advantages of a brain shaped by enriching experiences. This breakthrough opens up pathways for comprehending the significance of plasticity and reserve formation in combatting neurodegenerative disorders, particularly in terms of innovative preventive approaches," remarked Professor Kempermann. In addition to his affiliation with DZNE, he is also associated with the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TU Dresden. He further added, "Moreover, this research will contribute to our understanding of disease mechanisms linked to neurodegeneration, including brain network dysfunctions."
Potential Regarding Brain-inspired Artificial Intelligence
"In our endeavor to unravel the influence of experiences on the brain's connectome and dynamics, we are not only expanding the frontiers of brain research," emphasized Dr. Amin. He continued, "Artificial intelligence draws inspiration from the computational processes of the brain. Therefore, the tools we have developed and the insights they provide have the potential to pave the way for innovative machine learning algorithms."