New study in electric fish reveals brain mechanisms for distinguishing self from other

phys.org | 7/11/2018 | Staff
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The brain's remarkable ability to perceive the outside world relies almost entirely on its capacity to tune out noise generated by the body's own actions, according to a first-of-its-kind study in electric fish led by scientists at Columbia University.

This noise-cancellation mechanism is so critical, the study found, that without it, the animals lost their ability to sense their surroundings—effectively rendering them blind to the world around them. These findings may help researchers better understand disorders such as tinnitus, the chronic and potentially debilitating ringing of the ears that may be due in part to disruptions in the brain's ability to cancel out self-generated sounds.

Research - Today - Neuron

This research was published today in Neuron.

"At its most fundamental, the brain's purpose is to create an accurate and stable representation of the world around us, and we've long hypothesized that this noise-cancellation mechanism played a part in that," said Nathaniel Sawtell, Ph.D., a principal investigator at Columbia's Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and the paper's senior author. "With today's study, we offer direct evidence that this mechanism is essential to improve and enhance the brain's ability to sense its surroundings."

Brain - Array - Stimuli - World—without - Body

How the brain correctly perceives and reacts to the vast array of sensory stimuli from the outside world—without blurring them with those created by the body's own actions—has long been a subject of intense study. Previous work by Dr. Sawtell in electric fish and mice revealed how the brain cancels out predictable sensory information, generated by the animals' own bodies, that conveys no useful information.

"The brain is constantly receiving both sensory information along with internal signals related to an animal's own behavior. Those internal signals act as a sort of ID tag, cluing the brain into which components are self-generated and which are not," said Dr. Sawtell, who is also an associate professor of neuroscience...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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