Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brainpower May Lie in Complexity of Synapses

It's been a minute since we last visited the topic of connectomics.

T3 hollar'd at me this morning about neural density. This in turn provoked me to dredge up this post on neuroeconomics from the archives and do a bit of google-ing. My remarks to T3 were rather disparaging of the state of the art. As it turns out however, the dismissive remarks were right on target as this article in the current Technology Review bears out.
The diagram is the fruit of an emerging field called "connectomics," which attempts to physically map the ­tangle of neural circuits that collect, ­process, and archive information in the nervous system. Such maps could ultimately shed light on the early development of the human brain and on diseases that may be linked to faulty wiring, such as autism and schizophrenia. "The brain is ­essentially a computer that wires itself up during development and can rewire itself," says ­Sebastian Seung, a computational neuroscientist at MIT, who is working with Lichtman. "If we have a wiring diagram of the brain, that could help us understand how it works."
But my man Nana has gotten us back on track with an update on one of the core data sets we like to monitor - that which illuminates the structural and functional underpinnings of cognition and everything we consequently hold dear - this one concerning measurable interspecies differences in synaptic density and complexity;
The computing capabilities of the human brain may lie not so much in its neuronal network as in the complex calculations that its synapses perform, Dr. Grant said. Vertebrate synapses have about 1,000 different proteins, assembled into 13 molecular machines, one of which is built from 183 different proteins.

These synapses are not standard throughout the brain, Dr. Grant’s group has found; each region uses different combinations of the 1,000 proteins to fashion its own custom-made synapses.

Each synapse can presumably make sophisticated calculations based on messages reaching it from other neurons. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons, interconnected at 100 trillion synapses.
Lets see how long it takes for Big Don and his confederates to begin foraging around for additional data along this cytoarchitechtonic variable to shore up the preconceived notions they hold so dear. Interestingly, if I had to wager as to a group of homo sapiens with exceptional phenotypical characteristics in this area, I'd wager that Australian aboriginals have the rest of you humans beaten hands down along this measure. Just a hunch on my part....,