The human brain has more than 900 billion neurons, and despite scientific advances, researchers are still discovering the different types of cells it houses and their specific functions.
The latest findings were made by a team from Aarhus University in Denmark and Stanford University in the United States. By studying mice, the researchers describe a new type of neuron that is involved in the translation of major events into lasting memories.
These cells are called Theta-Off Ripple-On (TORO) and are located in the hippocampus. The research was published in the scientific journal Neuron.
“TORO neurons spread acute wave information widely in the brain and signal the occurrence of memory events,” explained researcher Marco Capogna in an interview with the university’s website. Cell activity is synchronized with magnetic waves known to “preserve” the brain’s memories.
TORO neurons also appear to be involved in the release of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is known to have a sedative effect on brain activity. Most of the cells that release neurotransmitters do so when the brain is in a state of high activity, such as during exercise. For TORO neurons, the opposite is true.
“We found that this new type of neuron is most active during sharp waves when the animal is awake — but quiet — or in deep sleep,” explained Capogna. “By contrast, neurons are not active when a population of neurons has slow, synchronized activity called ‘theta’, which can occur when animals are awake and moving, or in a specific type of sleep when we normally dream, “He says.
Scientists believe that more research is needed to fully understand the function of TORO neurons and how they may help treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
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