Neuroscientists have long been captivated by the human brain’s extraordinary power to retain and retrieve memories. The critical brain areas involved in memory processing have been identified by decades of research. However, research into the underlying systems that enable these networks to exchange information and integrate it is still underway. Electric fields are now recognized as being essential in determining how the brain connects and transfers information, thanks to recent developments in neuroscience.
The study, which was conducted at MIT, explores the complex interactions of brain networks involved in memory encoding and sheds light on the growing function of electric fields in promoting the integration of cognitive processes. We want to shed light on the dynamic and complex nature of human memory, opening new paths for understanding cognition and potential therapeutic approaches for memory-related illnesses. To do this, we investigate the impact of electric fields on memory encoding.
Although widely acknowledged, the brain’s circuit metaphor, in which neurons join to form useful networks for memory storage and thinking processes, still needs to be finished. According to recent research, electromagnetic fields play a key role in coordinating these brain circuits. According to a study published in Cerebral Cortex, when playing working memory games, animals’ memories were coordinated between two important brain regions by an electric field created by the underlying electrical activity of all involved neurons.
This field seemed to control voltage oscillations across cell membranes, driving brain activity. This electric field, known as “ephaptic coupling,” affects the spiking of neurons and regulates electrical transmissions across synapses. Similar to a conductor leading an orchestra of neurons, an understanding of how electric fields affect brain activity provides fresh insights into memory and cognitive processes.
According to Miller, “Many cortical neurons spend a lot of time fluctuating just before spiking. They may be propelled in one direction or another by changes in the electric field around them. It’s difficult to think of evolution not using that.
According to the new research, electric fields significantly influence how electrical activity in neuron networks drives a shared representation of working memory data. Lead author Dimitris Pinotsis underlined that this discovery may have ramifications for brain-computer interface (BCI) technology, assisting researchers and engineers in interpreting brain data and possibly enhancing the creation of brain-controlled prosthetics for paralyzed people.
The researchers showed how mathematics and physics can provide helpful insights into the workings of the brain by using the theory of complex systems and mathematical calculations to predict and support through experimental data that the brain’s electric fields guide neurons in memory production.
A biophysical model created by Miller and Pinotsis in 2022 demonstrated that electric fields generated by neural groups in a brain region were more stable and trustworthy representations of information used in working memory games than individual neurons’ electrical activity. This phenomenon, known as “representational drift,” demonstrated how electric fields affect how effectively the brain processes information.
They then looked into whether the governing electric field was distributed across various brain regions by ephaptic coupling, creating a memory network or “engram.” When examining two brain areas crucial to a working memory game, the frontal eye fields (FEF) and the supplementary eye fields (SEF), they employed mathematical models to predict neuronal activity and total electric fields. The research showed that, rather than the other way around, the electric fields causally altered neuronal activity and accurately represented the information transmission between the two brain regions, fusing them into a memory network.
A growing body of research indicates that the regulation and influence of brain circuits may depend heavily on the electric fields produced by cerebral electrical activity. Miller hypothesizes that these fields may be created by the electrical activity of individual neurons, which in turn affects the spiking and synapses of the neurons. Because synaptic plasticity, the strength of brain connections, and circuit function are all regulated by when and whether neurons spike, this bidirectional relationship between electric fields and neuronal activity has important ramifications for mental health treatments.
Brain electrical fields can be modified by clinical technology like transcranial electrical stimulation (TES). TES might be utilized to alter brain circuits if these fields actively shape neural activity. This fascinating possibility opens the door to possible medicines intended to fix patients’ defective circuits to support mental health treatments.