Researchers discover new kinds of brain waves
in Neuroscience, News
20 Mar 2015
Your sleeping brain is working harder than you think, according to a new study by researchers at the Save Sight Institute.
Unconscious brain states such as sleep and anaesthesia are characterised by slow changes in brain electrical activity (brain waves). These slow brain waves were thought to indicate low levels of activity, like the slow rise and fall of the ocean on a calm day. But now Save Sight researchers have shown that even sleeping brains may be very active indeed.
In collaboration with researchers from Sydney University School of Physics, neuroscientists from the Save Sight Institute measured the fine detail of brain waves in visual centres of anaesthetised monkeys, and found the slow waves hide a rich variety of micro-patterns that evolve continuously in space and time.
“These patterns were not at all like a calm sea, in fact the pictures we got were more like a series of tropical storms”, explains neuroscientist Professor Paul Martin.
To make sense of the patterns, the physicists applied methods for analysing turbulent flow in gas and fluids, and found an excellent fit to the data.
“It is good that the turbulence methods worked so well,” adds physicist Pulin Gong, “but the really exciting thing is that we seem to have found a whole new set of patterns of brain activity.”
The researchers think the patterns might even be used by the brain to process information in a distributed and dynamic way, but there is a lot more to discover about them before we know the details.
The Journal of Neuroscience published the team’s research findings this month.
For details see: Townsend RG et al. (2015) Emergence of complex wave patterns in primate cerebral cortex. J Neurosci 35:4657–4662.