Researchers have lately discovered an additional role of dendrites the branching extensions of neurons. Before the study, dendrites were considered as the receptive parts of a neuron, meaning, responsible for transmitting information from sense organs and carrying impulses to different muscles in the body. It is because of this tendency, they are also termed as electrical transmitters of the body. However, the recent research postulates dendrites additional ability to process information, hence increasing the brain’s computing power. This insinuates brain has a huge processing power relatively. Period.
The study initiated at University College London and culminated at the University of North Carolina. Researchers took years of hard work to reach to the conclusion. The subject of their study was mouse.
The plan was to listen the electrical signaling that emanated from neurons. Patch clamp technique was employed to perform the research. Microscopic glass pipette electrode was filled with a physiological solution, to a neuronal dendrite in the brain of the mouse.
Fastening the pipette to a dendrite is in itself quite a challenging job, admitted the scholar behind the study, he compared the task similar to fishing but somehow, they were able to manage it.
After attaching pipette to a dendrite, the researchers started observing behaviors of mice – one was under the effect of anesthesia while other was conscious and was watching visual stimuli on a computer screen. The experiment demonstrated that electrical signals or the dendritic spikes were produced from the mouse, which was on visual stimuli. This suggested that dendrites were processing information about what the animal was perceiving through eyes.
In order to give a visual evidence, researchers filled neurons with calcium dye, which produced an optical readout of spiking. This suggested that dendrites fired spikes unlike other portion of neuron, which remain unaffected to the dye, hinting the pattern is an outcome of local processing within the dendrites.
Hence, the scholars affirmed that neural circuitry functions in the brain are transistors that compute information.