The new method improves measurement of human brain activity

How the brain processes numbers?


There are vast gaps in our understanding of the organization and operation of the human nervous system at the level of individual neurons and their networks. Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have made it easier by developing a new method that relies on microelectrodes arrays.

Scientists, in their study, have shown how the brain processes numbers. They found that participants’ brains contained specialized neurons for managing various amounts. When the patient was shown a dot pattern with its “preferred” number of elements, these neurons became especially active. This was also true, albeit to a lesser extent, when the individuals processed numerical symbols.

Scientists first had to solve a fundamental problem to get to this result. The skull prevents the individual recording of neurons. In individuals with epilepsy, some medical teams surgically implant electrodes. However, the area of the brain thought to be in charge of processing numbers is not reached by these treatments.

Scientists developed a neuroscience approach using microelectrode arrays, enabling new possibilities in neuroscience. The scientists worked closely with the manufacturer to adjust the electrodes to produce accurate data during awake brain surgery. The secret was to put more space between the needle-like sensors that capture a cell’s electrical activity.

The development of the procedure was possible only because patients with brain tumors agreed to support the research team. They agreed to have sensors implanted during brain surgery, and the sensors completed test tasks for the researchers. Scientists claim that the experimental techniques did not harm the surgical team’s work.

Simon Jacob, Professor of Translational Neurotechnology at the Department of Neurosurgery at TUM’s university hospital, said, “Our procedure has two key advantages. And second, with the electrodes we used, which have been standardized and tested in years of animal trials, many more medical centers will be able to measure neuronal activity in the future.”

“While epilepsy operations are performed only at a few centers and on relatively few patients, many more university hospitals perform awake operations on patients with brain tumors. With a significantly larger number of studies with standardized methods and sensors, we can learn much more in the coming years about how the human brain functions.”

Journal Reference:

  1. V.M. Eisenkolb, V.M. Held, A. Utzschmid, X.-X. Lin, S.M. Krieg, B. Meyer, J. Gempt, S.N. Jacob, “Human acute microelectrode array recordings with broad cortical access, single-unit resolution, and parallel behavioral monitoring,” Cell Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.112467
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