Scientist at the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) has been working on one of the most fickle cell in the body called the Purkinje cell, which have the capacity to cure autism and even help in designing better artificial intelligence.
The little understood Purkinje cells which form a single layer within the cerebellum in the base of the brain helps in controlling balance, coordination and for learning new motor skills which enables us to ride a bicycle, painting or even learning musical instrument.
The study has shown that these cells have innate ability to either follow or ignore instructions of the brain. This “moodiness” of the Purkinje cell was found to depend on the voltage across the membrane. When the inside of the cell was more negative than the outside, the signals in the Purkinje cell remained silent until “instruction” from the parts of the brain sent it into a flurry of activity.
This obedient state is termed as ‘down’ state the researchers. However, when the inside of the cell was less negative than the outside, the cell goes into an ‘up’ mode where impulses were sent at a constant rate despite receiving signals coming from other parts of the brain.
An NCBS scientist, Vatsala Thirumalai who along with her graduate student, Mohini Sengupta, authored the paper on Purkinje cells, says:
We have shown that a more negative signals help the neurons pay attention to signals it receives while a less negative voltage put it in a ‘do not disturb’ mode.
However, she added that it is of further research why the voltage within the cells changes.
It is known that several conditions like autism and ataxias (a condition resulting in a lack of muscular coordination) affect the Purkinje neuron function. Understanding the working of this cells can help in designing the therapy for improving motor skills.It can also help in designing better robot movement which have the complexity of human movement.
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