New Israeli brain theory touted as major breakthrough

Israeli scientists have published a bold new theory on how the brain learns, and say it could open up new possibilities for treating degenerative diseases – and for increasing the power of computers.

This research appeared Thursday in Scientific Reports, a journal published by Nature Portfolio. It has been ‘peer-reviewed’, which means it has been carefully analyzed and deemed worthy of publication by independent experts.

The study suggests that while most learning in the brain is commonly thought to take place in the synapses, much of the learning actually takes place in another part of the neurons – in the dendrites. .

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Synapses are the small spaces between two neurons, where nerve impulses are relayed, while dendrites are extensions of nerve cells.

Professor Ido Kanter of Bar-Ilan University, who led the research, which required years of animal studies, told the Times of Israel that this discovery was “exciting” because pharmaceutical companies can use it to develop new types of treatments for degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

He added that by focusing on building the capacity of dendrites, such new treatments could emerge.

Illustration of neuron anatomy, including dendrites. (Credit: iStock via Getty Images)

“Most drug research today focuses on synapses, but if some of it starts to focus on dendrites, then we have the opportunity to open up new possibilities in the development of medications in light of our results,” commented Kanter.

According to Kanter, one of the reasons why this finding is important is that dendrites consume much less energy than synapses. Studying and understanding how they enable learning will help computing, as well as medicine, he predicted.

1651353327 560 New Israeli brain theory touted as major breakthrough

Professor Ido Kanter, Bar-Ilan University (Credit: Courtesy Bar-Ilan University)

Over the past 70 years, machine learning has relied on the idea that the brain learns by changing the strength of synapses, tracking the relative activity of the neurons that connect them.

“Dendrite learning is much more efficient than synapse functioning, which helps explain why the brain is much slower than computers, but can actually do so much more in some ways. »

“If we understand dendrite learning better, I think it will allow us to mimic its very effective nature in the field of artificial intelligence,” he said.

“This could pave the way for much more powerful computers that work much faster and analyze much more data in a limited amount of time. There are no limits. »

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New Israeli brain theory touted as major breakthrough

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