Scientists have found a unique type of cell messaging taking place in the human brain that hasn’t ever been documented before.
Earlier in 2020, researchers from institutes in Greece and Germany presented a mechanism in the brain’s outer cortical cells that develop a new “graded” signal on its own, which may grant individual neurons new ways of carrying out their logical functions.
By analyzing the electrical activity in areas of tissue removed via surgery in epileptic patients and studying their composition via fluorescent microscopy, the neurologists discovered individual cells in the cortex used both the usual sodium ions to “fire” and calcium as well.
The combination of positively charged ions triggered waves of voltage never recorded before, often called calcium-mediated dendritic action potentials, or dCaAPs for short.
Brains are often compared to computers, but the analogy can be a bit far-fetched at times.
Both rely on voltage to transmit signals.
In computers, that process happens thanks to electronic components called transistors.
In neurons, the signal is like a wave of opening and closing channels that exchange charged particles like sodium, chloride, and potassium.
That flowing ion pulse is known as an action potential.
In contrast to transistors, neurons take care of the messages chemically at the end of branches known as dendrites.
Matthew Larkum, a neuroscientist of the Humboldt University, stated:
“The dendrites are central to understanding the brain because they are at the core of what determines the computational power of single neurons,”
Dendrites are like traffic lights of the nervous system.
If an action potential is great enough, it gets passed on to other nerves, potentially blocking or passing a message.