Researchers have found a built-in speedometer in the human brain
on 08 June 2015

If someone told you, you can use your brain much more quickly and way more effectively, would you believe them? Would you listen?

The anomaly of racing thoughts!

It's early days with this research but it has a great potential for increasing both our knowledge of the brain; as well as the ways in which we can use it. As a practising Hypnotherapist for over 15 years now, I have no doubt as to how much we can influence the way our brain works and the more mindful we are of that; the better it works! Having had the pleasure of helping many people make sustainable life changes, I am in awe of the power of our brain and even more so, in the specific ways in which we can control that process. It is no accident that we have phrases such, "Think yourself well" or "Thin" Thought was at the root of his existence when Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am". In modern-day life now we are all too aware of the power of thought, though sadly, that is the negative way in which it affects our daily life. The good news is, it is just as powerful whichever way you choose to use it. The only difference being, that positive thought usually needs more conscious awareness and action to bring about the required response. The fight or flight response is an instinctive survival mechanism, where milliseconds sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Positive thought, however, is nice but not that necessary, at least from a survival perspective; hence why it needs more self-activation. 

Relative to the research below is my belief that the more fluid our (positive) brain/mind processes are, the more uniquely we can fine-tune our brains natural responses and this research gives us a neural insight into why that may be!

The research:
Scientists at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the University of Bonn led by Prof. Stefan Remy report on this in the journal Neuron. Their investigations give new insights into the workings of spatial memory. Furthermore, they could also help improve our understanding of movement-related symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease.

In a familiar environment, our movements are purposeful. For example, if we leave our office desk for a coffee break, we naturally follow a predefined route that has been stored in our memory: Through the office door, left into the hall, past the windows. To keep us on track, our brain has to process varying sensory impressions quickly. "This is a fundamental issue our brain has to deal with. Not just on our way to the coffee machine, but any time we move in space. For example when we are on a bike or in a car," explains Remy. With increasing speed, the data rate also increases, he emphasizes: "The faster we move, the less time the brain has to take in environmental cues and to associate them with a location on our memorized spatial map. Our perception, therefore, has to keep pace with the speed of movement so that we remember the right way to go. Otherwise, we end up at the copy machine instead of the coffee machine."

Rhythmic fluctuations

It has been known for some time that the hippocampus -- the part of the brain that controls memory, particularly spatial memory -- adjusts to the speed of locomotion. "The electrical activity of the hippocampus undergoes rhythmic fluctuations. The faster we move, the faster certain nerve cells are activated," says Remy. "This increased activation rate sensitizes the brain. It becomes more receptive to the changing sensory impressions that have to be processed when moving." But how does the brain actually know how fast a movement is? Previously there was no answer to this question. Now, Remy and his colleagues have decoded the mechanism. For this, they stimulated specific areas within the mouse brain and recorded the ensuing brain activity and the mice's locomotion. "We have identified the neural circuits in mice that link their spatial memory to the speed of their movement. This interplay is an important foundation for a functioning spatial memory," says Remy. "We assume that humans have similar nerve cells, as the brains of mice and humans have a very similar structure in these regions."

Small cell group.

The cells in question are located in the "medial septum," a part of the brain directly connected to the hippocampus. They make up a relatively small group comprising a few thousand cells. "They gather information from sensory and locomotor systems, determine the speed of movement and transmit this information to the hippocampus. In this way, they tune the spatial memory systems for optimized processing of sensory stimuli during locomotion," explains Remy. However, these circuits have even more functions. "We have found that they also give the start signal for locomotion and that they actively control its speed. Until now, this control function was almost exclusively ascribed to the motor cerebral cortex." These newly discovered nerve cells are linked with areas of the brain that are affected by Parkinson's in humans. This disease is associated with movement-related symptoms and can cause dementia. "In this respect, our results go beyond the workings of spatial memory; they also have the potential to provide new insights into how memory systems and the execution of movements are affected in Parkinson's disease," says Remy.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


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