Fast neural computation at the basis of cognition

01 June 2023

The speed at which the human brain processes information is higher than in other animal species. Neuroscientist René Wilbers discovered that by examining millions of brain cells collected from a live sample of brain tissue.

Wilbers: “We aimed at finding out the mechanism behind fast neural computation and how it contributes to unique cognitive ability within humans and how it affects the differences between individuals.”
According to the neuroscientist cell attributes likely play an important role in human cognition. His research showed for example that brain cells of humans with a high IQ-score have more complex antennas to receive signals from other cells and that these cells transform and transmit signals quicker. He also discovered that some type of brain cells within humans process information more rapidly than the same type of brain cells in the mouse. In addition to the larger brain of humans, it could help explain why humans possess unique cognitive abilities.

Deeper understanding of cognition
Cognition is the ability to knowledge processing, as well as functions such as perception, thinking, memory and concentration. The research of Wilbers could contribute to deeper understanding of the fundamentals of cognition. It could also be possible that other scientists might use these findings to further explore what happens when cognition regresses with illness: for example with a condition like dementia.

Live brain tissue examined
Wilbers used live brain tissue from a patient. In Amsterdam UMC some patients with a deep-seated tumour or epileptic focus are operated to reduce symptoms. To reach the ill brain tissue the surgeon also needs to remove a small piece of healthy tissue which cannot be placed back afterwards. “With permission of the patient we were allowed to use this brain tissue in our research. This proved as pivotal with millions of brain cells that we could keep alive for about 24 hours to study under the microscope and measure the electrical currents with electrodes. Subsequently we used detailed computer modelling to make predictions with the help of our observations“, explains the neuroscientist.

See Research team Neurons of Human Cognition

News item Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam