Our brain works very differently than we thought

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The human brain is still a mystery to science in many areas. German researchers have now decoded another mechanism.

Scientists at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have made a new discovery about our brains – disproving a decades-old assumption.

Thoughts flow in one direction instead of in loops
Until now, it was assumed that the nerve cells (neurones) in the human cerebral cortex were connected similarly to those in mice and that their signals flowed in loops. However, it now turns out that in humans, information flows in one direction instead. This makes information processing in humans more powerful and efficient, according to a Charité press release.

Quotation Mark
“Our current understanding of the neuronal architecture in the cerebral cortex is largely based on knowledge gained from animal models such as the mouse.”

To come to this conclusion, the research team analysed particularly rare samples: 23 people who had undergone neurosurgery at Charité due to epilepsy provided their brain tissue. Using state-of-the-art technology—the so-called multipatch technique—the researchers were able to observe signalling flows in the brain samples until the cells outside the body ceased their activity.

More complex cerebral cortex—different information processing
As the researchers report in their study published in the renowned journal “Science”, the human cerebral cortex is not only significantly larger than that of the mouse but also more complex. According to them, only a small fraction of the neurons conduct two-way dialogues. “In humans, information instead flows primarily in one direction, rarely returning to the starting point directly or via loops,” says Dr Yangfan Peng, lead author of the study.

Did you already know?
The cerebral cortex, one of the most important structures for human intelligence, is less than five millimetres thick. Twenty billion nerve cells process countless sensory perceptions here, in the outermost layer of the brain. We plan our actions in the cerebral cortex; this is where our consciousness is located.

Using a computer simulation, the scientists were able to prove that this forward-directed flow of signals has advantages for data processing. The result: in contrast to the mouse, the human network worked more efficiently and was able to store more information.

Research in the field of brain research and artificial intelligence is still in its infancy. However, researchers hope that the new findings could now contribute to the further development of AI networks.

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