Research reveals new neural activity patterns that emerge with long-term learning
Mastering a new skill – whether a sport, an instrument, or a craft – takes time and training. While it is understood that a healthy brain is capable of learning these new skills, how the brain changes in order to develop new behaviors is a relative mystery. More precise knowledge of this underlying neural circuitry may eventually improve the quality of life for individuals who have suffered brain injury by enabling them to more easily relearn everyday tasks.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University recently published an article in PNAS (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820296116) that reveals what happens in the brain as learners progress from novice to expert. They discovered that new neural activity patterns emerge with long-term learning and established a causal link between these patterns and new behavioral abilities.
The research was performed as part of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-institutional research and education program that leverages the strengths of Pitt in basic and clinical neuroscience and bioengineering with those of CMU in cognitive and computational neuroscience.
The project was jointly mentored by Aaron Batista, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering; Byron Yu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering at CMU; and Steven Chase, associate professor of biomedical engineering and the Neuroscience Institute at CMU. The work was led by Pitt bioengineering postdoctoral associate Emily Oby.
“We used a brain-computer interface (BCI), which creates a direct connection between our subject’s neural activity and the movement of a computer cursor,” said Oby. “We recorded the activity of around 90 neural units in the arm region of the primary motor cortex of Rhesus monkeys as they performed a task that required them to move the cursor to align with targets on the monitor.”
To determine whether the monkeys would form new neural patterns as they learned, the research group encouraged the animals to attempt a new BCI skill and then compared those recordings to the pre-existing neural patterns.
“We first presented the monkey with what we call an ‘intuitive mapping’ from their neural activity to the cursor that worked with how their neurons naturally fire and which didn’t require any learning,” said Oby. “We then induced learning by introducing a skill in the form of a novel mapping that required the subject to learn what neural patterns they need to produce in order to move the cursor.”
Like learning most skills, the group’s BCI task took several sessions of practice and a bit of coaching along the way.
“We discovered that after a week, our subject was able to learn how to control the cursor,” said Batista. “This is striking because by construction, we knew from the outset that they did not have the neural activity patterns required to perform this skill. Sure enough, when we looked at the neural activity again after learning we saw that new patterns of neural activity had appeared, and these new patterns are what enabled the monkey to perform the task.”
These findings suggest that the process for humans to master a new skill might also involve the generation of new neural activity patterns.
“Though we are looking at this one specific task in animal subjects, we believe that this is perhaps how the brain learns many new things,” said Yu. “Consider learning the finger dexterity required to play a complex piece on the piano. Prior to practice, your brain might not yet be capable of generating the appropriate activity patterns to produce the desired finger movements.”
“We think that extended practice builds new synaptic connectivity that leads directly to the development of new patterns of activity that enable new abilities,” said Chase. “We think this work applies to anybody who wants to learn – whether it be a paralyzed individual learning to use a brain-computer interface or a stroke survivor who wants to regain normal motor function. If we can look directly at the brain during motor learning, we believe we can design neurofeedback strategies that facilitate the process that leads to the formation of new neural activity patterns.”
The Latest on: Neural activity patterns
via Google News
The Latest on: Neural activity patterns
- Traveling brain waves help detect hard-to-see objectson October 7, 2020 at 1:43 pm
A team of scientists has uncovered details of the neural mechanisms underlying the perception of objects. They found that patterns of neural signals, called traveling brain waves, exist in the visual ...
- fMRI Experiment Reveals Striking Differences in How Dog and Human Brains Process Faceson October 4, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Scientists discover striking similarities and differences in how dog and human brains process visual information about others. Researchers of the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, ...
- Scientists May Have Figured Out Where Unwanted Thoughts Are Hiding in The Brainon October 4, 2020 at 3:37 am
"These results provide new neural evidence of the pervasiveness of suppressed ... Then a computer algorithm tuned to detect the difference in patterns of brain activity corresponding to thoughts about ...
- 'Social cells' related to social behavior identified in the brainon October 1, 2020 at 10:34 am
A research team led by Professor Takumi Toru of Kobe University's Graduate School of Medicine (also a Senior Visiting Scientist at RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research) have identified ...
- Researchers identify 'social cells' in the brain linked to social behavioron October 1, 2020 at 9:47 am
A research team led by Professor TAKUMI Toru of Kobe University's Graduate School of Medicine (also a Senior Visiting Scientist at RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research) have identified ...
- The Rise of BCI Enables Advances in Neuroscienceon September 30, 2020 at 10:32 pm
A nascent but growing consumer market for brain-computer interface technology is driving the development of sleek new tools for decoding brain activity.
- Clues to the Origin and Function of the Brain’s Alpha Waveson September 30, 2020 at 10:27 pm
Patterns of neural activity known as alpha waves, long thought to originate in the thalamus, may actually stem from a different brain region entirely.
- What is your attitude towards a humanoid robot? Your brain activity can tell us!on September 30, 2020 at 4:21 pm
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Italy found that people's bias towards robots, that is, attributing them intentionality or considering them as 'mindless things', can be correlated with distinct ...
- Plug and play brain prosthesison September 29, 2020 at 4:28 am
In a significant advance, UC San Francisco Weill Institute for Neurosciences researchers working towards a brain-controlled prosthetic limb have shown that machine learning techniques helped an ...
- Computer model explains altered decision making in schizophreniaon September 28, 2020 at 5:00 pm
Scientists have built a computer 'brain circuit', or artificial neural network, that mirrors human decision-making processes and sheds light on how circuits might be altered in psychiatric diseases.
via Bing News