This psychedelic doughnut may look like a blacklight poster on the wall of that dude who was really into Pink Floyd freshman year, but it's actually more mind-blowing than any poster glowing on the wall of a dorm room. In a way, it's "A Saucerful of Secrets," but in reality it's the creation of a few scientists attempting to grow an active brain in a petri dish.
The artificial microbrain consists of about 40 to 60 rat neurons and is capable of sustaining 12 neuronal seconds of network activity.
Although this sounds like a lost Syd Barrett song, the University of Pittsburgh researchers behind this project were able to keep a leash on their consciousness and create something far beyond a trippy musical number.
To cultivate their microbrain, Henry C. Zeringue and his colleagues took a silicon disk and stamped it with a layer of adhesive proteins. After the proteins had cultured and dried, brain (hippocampus) cells from embryonic rats were fused to the proteins and given time to grow and connect, forming a natural ring-shaped network capable of transmitting and receiving electrical signals.
By stimulating the neurons with an electrical pulse, the researchers found that the pulse could surge around the microbrain for 12 seconds, which was 11.75 seconds longer than the team had anticipated. This meant the neurons were storing and transmitting the signal in sequence, creating a sort of short-term memory.
"Persistent activity in the brain is involved in working memory and motor planning," states the study published by the team in the journal Lab on a Chip. "The ability of the brain to hold information ‘online' long after an initiating stimulus is a hallmark of brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex."
The researchers plan to use the microbrain to study how our brains transmit electrical signals and how our neural networks so efficiently process and store data.
Credit: Ashwin Vishwanathan, Guo-Qiang Bi and Henry C. Zeringue, University of Pittsburgh