What to do with recordings from a whopping 300,000 mouse neurons?

microsoft

Juan Gaertner / Getty Images

There’s a video that’s shown in almost every introductory neuroscience course. It doesn’t look like much—a bar of light shifting and rotating across a black screen while the background audio pops and crackles like the sound of a faraway fireworks show. Dry stuff, until you learn that the pops represent the firing of a single neuron in the brain of a cat, who is watching the bar move on the screen. When the bar reaches a specific location and lies at a particular angle, the popping explodes in a grand finale of frantic activity. The message is clear: This neuron really, really cares about that bar.

The experiment shown in the video was performed by David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel in the 1960s and helped scientists infer basic principles about how the visual system works. For decades since, neuroscientists have stuck thin, metal electrodes into the brains of mice, finches, and monkeys to spy on individual neurons and figure out what sets them off. There are neurons that respond to specific colors or shapes; or to particular locations in space or the direction of one’s head; or to whole faces or individual features.

microsoft
As powerful an engine as single-cell analysis has proven, “Everybody always wanted more neurons,” says Anne Churchland, professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Part of the reason was simple statistics: More observations are always better, no matter the experiment. But scientists also ran up against analytical walls when they looked at neurons one-by-one. In the prefrontal cortex, the region at the front of the brain that plays major roles in planning, decision-making, and social behavior, neurons respond to such a diversity of things—visual features, tasks, decisions—that researchers have been unable to assign them any particular role, at least individually. Even in the primary visual cortex, the area far to the back of the brain where Hubel and Wiesel made their recordings, only a fraction of neurons actually fire when the animal looks at oriented bars.

With Hubel and Wiesel’s techniques, looking at more than a handful of neurons at once was impossible. But engineers have pushed and pushed that capacity, culminating in the development of Neuropixels probes in 2017. One centimeter long and made of silicon, a single probe can listen to hundreds of neurons at once and is small enough that neuroscientists can stick several of them into an animal’s brain. At the Allen Institute, a nonprofit research institute started by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, they used six Neuropixels probes to record simultaneously from eight different regions of the mouse visual system. In August, the institute released data from 81 mice—comprising the activity of around 300,000 neurons. The data is freely available to any researchers who might want to use it.

As the largest data set of this kind ever collected—three times as big as the previous record holder—the release lets researchers observe enormous groups of neurons acting in concert. That unprecedented scale may unlock opportunities to understand parts of cognition that have previously evaded the scientific community’s grasp. “We want to understand how we think and see and make decisions,” says Shawn Olsen, an investigator at the Allen Institute who played a central role in the project. “And it just does not happen at the level of single neurons.”

The challenge now is figuring out just how to parse all that data. Gargantuan data sets aren’t easy to handle; even sharing and downloading them can be difficult. But as tricky as the analysis may prove, working with such data sets is eminently worth it to many researchers, because it lets them study the brain on its own terms.

To Hubel and Wiesel, the brain looked like an assembly line: groups of neurons, each specialized for a specific role, dividing and conquering each task. Show someone a red balloon, and neurons sensitive to red and circles will respond independently. But that approach never really suited how the brain actually functions—it is so densely wired up that no neuron is ever acting in isolation. “The brain is not looking at one neuron at a time,” says Stefano Fusi, professor of neuroscience at Columbia University. “Neurons, they’re looking at thousands of other neurons. So we should take the same perspective.”

TECH NEWS RELATED

Could letting social media users rank accuracy help stop misinformation?

When fighting the spread of misinformation, social media platforms typically place most users in the passenger seat. Platforms often use machine-learning algorithms or human fact-checkers to flag false or misinforming content for users. “Just because this is the status quo doesn’t mean it is the correct way or the ...

View more: Could letting social media users rank accuracy help stop misinformation?

Surface Pen Eraser not erasing or working properly [Fixed]

According to some Surface Pen users, they are not able to use the eraser. If this scenario is applicable to you, then don’t fret about it. In this article, we have mentioned why this issue is happening and what you can do to make the eraser start working. So, if ...

View more: Surface Pen Eraser not erasing or working properly [Fixed]

Defying Extinction – Asian Animals Found Thriving Near Humans

Sumatra tiger on the forest’s edge. Credit: UQ/Matthew Luskin Some of Asia’s largest animals, including tigers and elephants, are defying 12,000 years of extinction trends by coexisting with people, according to research led by the University of Queensland. Researchers combed through paleontological records to compare the past distribution of ...

View more: Defying Extinction – Asian Animals Found Thriving Near Humans

Halo Infinite Forge map builds Nakatomi Plaza for a Die Hard Christmas

A Halo Infinite Forge map called Faux Plaza recreates the famous Nakatomi Plaza high-rise building from Die Hard to give you a Christmas special in the FPS game

View more: Halo Infinite Forge map builds Nakatomi Plaza for a Die Hard Christmas

Supercharge Your Shortcut Menu With These Mac Apps

Control-click opens up a new level of interaction with the macOS interface. The options in the shortcut menu adapt to what you’re clicking. For example, when you control-click on a Finder window, you can switch between different views, change sort options, and configure view options. And when you click ...

View more: Supercharge Your Shortcut Menu With These Mac Apps

Radiograph app will monitor PC Temperature, Power & Performance

Radiograph is a free app for Windows to monitor PC temperature, power, and performance. Apart from that, you can find your hardware configuration information, network information, etc. It is suggested to go through this article to learn more about the Radiograph app for Windows 11/10 PC. Radiograph app for Windows ...

View more: Radiograph app will monitor PC Temperature, Power & Performance

How to enable or disable Automatically Update Offline Maps in Windows 11

For the native Maps app of Windows 11/10, you can download offline maps for a country or a region and then use those maps for directions and search for places. And, there is a built-in setting that helps to automatically update the downloaded maps when the device is on Wi-Fi ...

View more: How to enable or disable Automatically Update Offline Maps in Windows 11

How to insert Image into a cell in Excel

Excel is a program that is mainly used to store data and make calculations; it contains rows and columns that make up the spreadsheet and contain cells to input data. In Microsoft Excel, users can change the color of the cells or thicken the border of the cells. But did ...

View more: How to insert Image into a cell in Excel

Google Translate not working in Chrome browser

How to switch Network printing between TCP and RPC in Windows 11

Fix LowLevelFatalError while gaming on Windows PC

7 Awesome Google Drive Features You May Not Know About

Stanford Researchers Find COVID-19 Pandemic Stress Physically Aged Teens’ Brains

How To Fix The “Not Enough Disk Space For Windows 10 Update” Error

How To Use Clipchamp – Microsoft’s Free Screen Recorder?

“Time inequality” is the world’s real problem, not income inequality

7 Solutions To Factory Reset Windows Without The Admin Password

How to Turn Off Restricted Mode on YouTube

The key to curing cancer in humans may be discovered in dogs

Good Sleep Can Increase Women’s Ambitions

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News