Simple movement sends ripples of activity through brain networks, study shows

Scientists discovered simple movement like pressing a button sends ripples of activity through networks of neurons that span the brain.

Why this is important:

  • The finding highlights how complex the human brain is and challenges the simplistic textbook image of separate brain regions dedicated to specific functions.
  • The study, a collaboration between University of Oregon (UO) human physiologists and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) researchers, was published in December in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
  • The phenomenon is probably not limited to movement either. Other systems, such as vision and touch, probably also extend through more of the brain than previously appreciated.

How it works:

  • The OHSU team uses a technique called intracranial EEG to determine where seizures may begin in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy.
  • Intercranial EEG involves surgically implanting a series of electrodes into patients’ brains, enabling doctors to pinpoint exactly when and where in the brain a seizure is occurring and potentially remove the affected brain area.
  • Human physiologist Nicki Swann and colleagues gave study participants a simple movement-related task – pressing a button.
  • They recorded the activity of thousands of neurons throughout the brain while the participants performed the task.
  • “We found that there is a spectrum of brain areas, from primary motor areas where you can decode that the person is moving 100% of the time, to other areas that respond 75% of the time,” added Alex Rockhill, first author on paper. In some of the areas that do not specialize in movement, “some of the neurons may fire, but they may be overwhelmed by neurons that are not movement-related.”

Background and next steps

  • Their findings compliment a study published in 2019 in the journal Naturewhere other researchers showed similar far-reaching brain networks related to locomotion in mice.
  • “That paper showed that movement is everywhere in the brain — and our paper shows that’s true in humans as well,” Swann said.
  • Now the team is working to develop new tasks that involve different types of movement to see how they appear in the brain. And they plan to continue expanding the collaboration with OHSU, involving more researchers in the project and gaining a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the brain.

Journal reference:

Rockhill, AP, et al. (2023) Stereo-EEG recordings extend known distributions of canonical movement-related oscillations. Journal of Neural Engineering.

Simple movement sends ripples of activity through brain networks, study shows

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