Learning and Remembering Movement
Published:10 Jun.2022    Source:Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
Technion Professor Jackie Schiller from the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and her team examined the brain at a single-neuron level to shed light on this mystery. They found that computation happens not just in the interaction between neurons (nerve cells ), but within each individual neuron. Each of these cells, it turns out, is not a simple switch, but a complicated calculating machine. This discovery, published recently in the Science magazine, promises changes not only to our understanding of how the brain works, but better understanding of conditions ranging from Parkinson's disease to autism. And if that weren't enough, these same findings are expected to advance machine learning, offering inspiration for new architectures.

Movement is controlled by the primary motor cortex of the brain. In this area, researchers are able to pinpoint exactly which neuron(s) fire at any given moment to produce the movement we see. Prof. Schiller's team was the first to get even closer, examining the activity not of the whole neuron as a single unit, but of its parts. Every neuron has branched extensions called dendrites. These dendrites are in close contact with the terminals (called axons) of other nerve cells, allowing the communication between them. A signal travels from the dendrites to the cell's body, and then transferred onwards through the axon. The number and structure of dendrites varies greatly between nerve cells, like the crown of one tree differs from the crown of another.