Exploring the brain in a new way: Researcher records neurons to understand cognition

Jack Stump in Phys.Org:

Where is Waldo?

Whether we’re searching for Waldo or our keys in a room of clutter, we tap into a part of the frontal region of the brain when performing visual, goal-related tasks. Some of us do it well, whereas for others it’s a bit challenging. One West Virginia University researcher set out to investigate why, and what specifically this part of the brain, called the pre-supplementary motor area, does during searching.

To find out, Shuo Wang, assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, took on the rare opportunity to record single neurons with electrodes implanted in epilepsy patients. He found neurons that signaled whether the target of a visual search was found and, if not, how long the patient had been searching for the item. This suggests that the pre-SMA contributes to goal-directed behavior by signaling goal detection and time elapsed since the start of a search, regardless of the task. It may be the first time scientists have identified neurons in the human pre-SMA that represent search goals, Wang said. These findings contribute to a better understanding of the cognitive aspects of disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, which are linked to dysfunction of the pre-SMA, he said. Similarly, pre-SMA hyperactivity is a frequent observation in people with autism.

More here.