How the brain of a mouse bends time

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The pace of the world is a challenge. It can move faster or slower than you’d like. We adapt. We adapt to the rhythm of the conversation. We keep pace with a crowd of people walking on a city sidewalk.

“There are a lot of situations where we have to perform the same actions at different tempos. Arkarup Banerjee is an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Banerjee’s team has discovered a new clue which suggests that the brain can bend time to meet our needs. It’s thanks in part to a Costa Rican critter named Alston’s Singing Mouse.

This breed is known for its vocalizations that are audible to humans and last several seconds. One mouse will sing its longing cry and another will respond to it with a tune. The song’s length and speed vary. Banerjee, his team and others studied the neural circuits that control the tempo of the song in mice’s brains.

The researchers pretended that they were playing duets while analyzing an area of the brain called the orofacialmotor cortex (OMC). They recorded the activity in neurons for several weeks. Then they looked for differences in songs with different durations or tempos.

They found that OMC neuronal activity is characterized by a process known as temporal scaling. Banerjee explains that the neurons do not encode absolute time as a clock does, but rather track relative time. “They actually slow or speed up intervals. It’s 10% or 20%, not one or two.

The discovery provides new insights into how the brain generates vocal communications. Banerjee suspects that its implications extend beyond language or music. It may help us understand how time is calculated in other parts, allowing for us to adjust our behaviors accordingly. And that could tell us a lot about how our beautiful, complex brains function.

Banerjee explains that this block of flesh, weighing three pounds, allows him to do anything from reading books to sending people on the moon. It gives us flexibility. We can adapt. We can adapt. We adapt. We wouldn’t have a brain if everything was stimulus-response with no learning opportunities, nothing that changes and no long-term goals. “We believe that the cortex exists in order to add flexibility to our behavior.”

In other words, the brain helps to make us who are. Banerjee’s discoveries may bring science closer in understanding how our brains interact with the rest of the world. The possibilities for technology, education and therapy are only limited by our imagination.

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