JUL 28, 2015 11:18 AM PDT

Your Brain...And All That Jazz

Brain waves have multiple rhythms that come together as needed but then go back to their own frequencies to address their own functions. The healthy brain functions like a well-practiced jazz band, while the unhealthy brain is more like a cacophonous bunch of instruments, according to researchers.
Brain rhythms work together like a jazz band, or separately, as needed.
A study at the University of California, Berkeley, published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience, and reported in Futurity, claims that the "human brain improvises while its rhythm section keeps up a steady beat. But when it comes to taking on intellectually challenging tasks, groups of neurons tune in to one another for a fraction of a second and harmonize, then go back to improvising, according to new research." The findings could help to define treatments for people with brain disorders marked by fast, slow, or chaotic brain waves, also known as neural oscillations," the article explains (http://www.futurity.org/brain-waves-jazz-968642/).

According to the study's lead author Bradley Voytek, an assistant professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego who conducted the study as a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at UC Berkeley, "The human brain has 86 billion or so neurons all trying to talk to each other in this incredibly messy, noisy, and electrochemical soup. Our results help explain the mechanism for how brain networks quickly come together and break apart as needed."

In measuring electrical activity in the brains of epilepsy patients who were cognitively healthy, the researchers at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute discovered that, when mental exercises became more demanding, theta waves at 4 to 8 Hertz or cycles per second synchronized within the brain's frontal lobe, which allowed it to connect with other brain regions, such as the motor cortex. As Voytek explains, "In these brief moments of synchronization, quick communication occurs as the neurons between brain regions lock into these frequencies, and this measure is critical in a variety of disorders."

While prior experiments on animals have demonstrated how brain waves control brain activity, the UC Berkeley study used electrocorticography to measure neural oscillations while people perform cognitively challenging tasks and showed "how these rhythms control communication between brain regions," the article says. Ultimately, such research could show how the five types of brain wave frequencies - Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta - play a different role, interact with each other and cause problems if the interaction is not what might be expected.

According to Nathan Urban, a neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, in previous research, "The brain absolutely has rhythm.When you concentrate, Urban says, your brain produces rapid, rhythmic electrical impulses called gamma waves. When you relax, it generates much slower alpha waves. The internal cadences of the brain and nervous system appear to play an important role in everything from walking to thinking, Urban says. And abnormal rhythms, he says, have been associated with problems including schizophrenia, epilepsy, autism and Parkinson's disease" (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/06/17/322915700/your-brains-got-rhythm-and-syncs-when-you-think
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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