Ruth Mitchell

New NE research helps reveals how brain works

New insights into how the brain is organised could boost diagnosis of and treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and autism, scientists hope.

A new study by Newcastle University, UK, and the International University Bremen, Germany, debunked a prevailing theory that the nervous system should mainly have very short nerve fibre connections between nerve cells, or neurons, to function at its most effective. Long nerve fibre connections were found to be just as vital to overall brain function as short ones. Brain scans of Alzheimer’s patients and people with autism have shown that they are lacking certain long-distance neural interactions, although experts have yet to discover their specific purpose.

Long fibres are important because they can send messages quickly over a longer distance compared to same message being sent over the same distance via lots of short fibres. Long fibres are also more reliable for transmission of messages over longer distances. “You can draw parallels with a train journey from Newcastle to London,” said lead researcher, Dr Marcus Kaiser, of Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science and the University’s Institute of Neuroscience. “For example, you would get to London much more quickly and easily if you took a direct train there. However, if you had to make the journey via Durham, Leeds and Stevenage, changing trains each time, then it will take you longer to get there, and there is the possibility you would miss a connection at some point. It’s the same in the human brain.”

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