Lab Experiments On Mice Reveal How Brain Multitask

Posted: Oct 22 2015, 9:55am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News


thalamic reticular nucleus
Photo credit: Michael Halassa

Researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center have conducted a number of experiments on lab mice to reveal how the brain functions in assigning priority on one task over the other, while multitasking to seamlessly carry out a number of ordered tasks.

In a study published in the journal Nature, the researchers were able to establish that the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) – a small shell-shaped point in the middle of the brain, is responsible for multitasking operations in the most routine and seamless manner.

The researchers say each TRN neuron is able to switch off one signal over another to be able to focus on what is important at any point in time – just like a switchboard, and this allows it to filter sensory signals and shift into one mode of attention from the other and back again without any hassles.

In lab experiments conducted on mice, the researchers showed that the mice were able to shut out light or sight signals in favor of sound signals, and also able to shut out sound signals in favor of sight depending on what reward is at stake at any particular point in time.

This means the TRN neurons in the brain can suppress visual signals to focus attention on sound signals, and also shut out sound signals to be able to pay attention to visual signals.

According to Michael Halassa, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at NYU Langone and the Druckenmiller Neuroscience Institute, "Our latest research findings support a newly emerging model of how the brain focuses attention on a particular task, using neurons in the thalamic reticular nucleus as a switchboard to control the amount of information the brain receives, limiting and filtering out sensory information that we don't want to pay attention to."

Senior study investigator and neuroscientist Halassa added that: "Filtering out distracting or irrelevant information is a vital function. People need to be able to focus on one thing and suppress other distractions to perform everyday functions such as driving, talking on the phone, and socializing."

Since the brain focuses attention on signals and shuts off distractions based on what it perceives as important, the researchers disclosed that neural circuits are always broken in patients suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and schizophrenia.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/52" rel="author">Charles I. Omedo</a>
Charles is covering the latest discoveries in science and health as well as new developments in technology. He is the Chief Editor or Intel-News.




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