This story is from the category The Brain
Date posted: 22/06/2012
University College London (UCL) neuroscientists have found that there is a simple pattern that describes the tree-like shape of all neurons.
Neurons look remarkably like trees, and connect to other cells with many branches that effectively act like wires in an electrical circuit, carrying impulses that represent sensation, emotion, thought and action.
Over 100 years ago, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, sought to systematically describe the shapes of neurons, and was convinced that there must be a unifying principle underlying their diversity.
Cajal proposed that neurons spread out their branches so as to use as little wiring as possible to reach other cells in the network. Reducing the amount of wiring between cells provides additional space to pack more neurons into the brain, and therefore increases its processing power.
New work by UCL neuroscientists has revisited this century-old hypothesis using modern computational methods. They show that a simple computer program that connects points with as little wiring as possible can produce tree-like shapes that are indistinguishable from real neurons — and also happen to be very beautiful.
They also show that the shape of neurons follows a simple mathematical relationship called a power law*: dendrites grow to fill a target space in an optimal manner and, similar to a minimum spanning tree, use the least amount of wiring to reach all synaptic contacts.
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