3 articles you need to check out on the future of neural circuit research

By Colm Gorey, Science Communications Manager

Image: Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock.com

In an ever-changing field of research such as neural circuits, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest breakthroughs. Now at Frontiers, we highlight just three of the latest research articles to shed more light on how the mind works.

The human brain continues to fascinate us, but still hides many mysteries that scientists aim to solve. Among the most studied aspects of the brain is its vast array of neural circuits which carry out a variety of crucial everyday functions in the body, and has inspired computer scientists to build powerful AI systems using artificial neural circuits.

Here are just three recent articles published to Frontiers from some of the top researchers in their field as part of the Research Topic ‘Horizons in Neural Circuits’.

Endocannabinoid-Mediated Control of Neural Circuit Excitability and Epileptic Seizures

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders, with an incidence of 50.4 per 100,000 people per year. Although many drugs and surgical treatments are available for the treatment of epilepsy, approximately 30% of patients continue to have uncontrolled seizures despite treatment.

One of the most important discoveries in the field of cannabinoid research is that endocannabinoids function as a retrograde messenger at synapses in the brain. Endocannabinoids, also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules made by your body. They’re similar to cannabinoids, but they’re produced by your body and are known to regulate, among other things, our sleep, mood, and appetite.

In this article, researchers from the University of Tokyo, Japan reviewed recent advances in research on the roles of endocannabinoid signaling in epileptic seizures and discuss future directions for antiepileptic medication.

Article link: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncir.2021.781113/full

Genetic Mechanisms Underlying the Evolution of Connectivity in the Human Cortex

Our brain’s cognitive capacity has made us the most dominant, influential species on Earth. And while we still lack a complete understanding of how the human brain gives rise to these unique abilities, the past several decades have witnessed significant progress in uncovering some of the genetic, cellular, and molecular mechanisms shaping the development and function of the human brain.

However, researchers from Columbia University and the University of South Carolina in the US recently published a review article identifying some of the known human-specific features of neuronal connectivity in the brain, differentiating us from our earliest ancestors. They outline how novel insights into the human genome led to the identification of human-specific genetic modifiers that played a role in the evolution of human brain development and function.

Article link: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncir.2021.787164/full

From Synapses to Circuits, Astrocytes Regulate Behavior

A major goal in neuroscience is to understand how neuronal circuitry maps onto specific physiological functions and behaviors. Neural circuits are recognized as the basis of nervous system function, therefore neuroscience research has largely focused on neurons from the level of the synapse to brain-wide circuits. Yet, the contributions of astrocytes, key players in brain function, have long been overlooked.

As part of a recent review article, researchers from The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the US analyzed tools used to acutely manipulate astrocytes (non-neuronal cells that regulate synapses, neuronal circuits, and behavior), such as optogenetics or chemogenetics. This demonstrated a causal role for astrocytes in sleep, memory, sensorimotor behaviors, feeding, fear, anxiety, and cognitive processes like attention and behavioral flexibility.

Article link: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncir.2021.786293/full

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