BRAIN initiative could lead to revolution in experimental neuroscience

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 - Brain Roadmap

The Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative could lead to a revolution in experimental neuroscience and is expected to shed light on disease processes, according to a viewpoint article published online April 7 by JAMA Neurology.

A partnership between the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, private foundations, and researchers, the BRAIN Initiative’s aim is to determine how rapidly fluctuating chemical and electrical activity flows through stable anatomical circuits to produce cognition and behavior, according to co-authors Cornelia I. Bargmann, PhD, of Rockefeller University in New York City, and William T. Newsome, PhD, of Stanford University in California.

“This is a frankly ambitious agenda that would have been considered impossible only a few years ago, but many of the necessary technologies are now within our grasp or on the horizon,” wrote the authors.

This scientific question has previously gone unanswered due to a lack of understanding of how neurons associated with perception, thought, decisions and movements are dynamically linked within circuits and networks. However, recent advancements in technology have made the possibility of finding an answer to this question a reality.

Bargmann and Newsome cite three new advances that could facilitate this research: the development of new recording capabilities, the advent of new tools that perturb neuron activity in precise ways, and the use of computational neuroscience’s conceptual tools to discover signals that are distributed across large neural populations.

“Neurology in particular stands to benefit from the BRAIN Initiative’s mission to be comprehensive,” they wrote. “The basal ganglia come into focus in movement disorders; the brainstem is essential in all life functions. These areas lack the simple columnar organization of the cortex, and their circuits are only beginning to be described. New tools for characterizing and manipulating circuits will increase knowledge of many relatively neglected brain areas.”

The initiative will benefit from the participation of neurologists and should benefit neurology by providing new knowledge, technologies, and infrastructures, wrote the authors.

A first view of the BRAIN Initiative to solve brain circuits and networks was outlined in an interim report in September 2013. The final report is expected in June.