The brain is, without a doubt, one of the most important, complex and incredible organs in the human body. He is responsible for everything we do. By the way we perceive what is around us, by storing information, by developing feelings, in short, its functions are numerous. It’s so true that if anything is wrong, however small, we can be in big trouble.
This organ weighs about 1.4 kilograms, measures 14 centimeters in width, 13 in height, and represents only 2% of body weight. Even being so small, they contain all the information of our lives, hiding the biggest mysteries.
So much so that scientists have now discovered a unique form of cellular message happening in the human brain that has never been seen before. This discovery suggests that the human brain may be far more powerful computing units than previously thought.
In early 2020, researchers at institutes in Germany and Greece showed a mechanism in the brain’s outer cortical cells that produces a new graduated signal of its own. This signal could give individual neurons another way to do their logical functions.
Then, neuroscientists measured electrical activity in tissue sections removed during surgery in epileptic patients and analyzed their structure. With this, they found that individual cells in the cortex used not only normal sodium ions to fire, but calcium as well.
It was this combination of positively charged ions that set off voltage waves that had never been seen before. They are known as calcium-mediated dendritic action potentials, or dCaAPs.
Brains, especially human brains, are quite compared to computers. That’s because the two use the power of an electrical voltage to do various operations. In computers, it takes the form of a simple stream of electrons.
In neurons, the signal comes in the form of a wave of opening and closing channels that exchange charged particles. For example, sodium, chloride and potassium. This pulse of ions is called an action potential. And instead of transistors, neurons chemically manage messages at the ends of branches that are called dendrites.
That’s because, they are the traffic lights of our nervous system. And if an action potential is significant enough, it can be transmitted to other nerves that can block or transmit the message.
And to make sure that any findings they made weren’t exclusive to people with epilepsy, the researchers checked the results on several samples taken from brain tumors.
More importantly, when they dosed the cells with a sodium channel blocker called tetrodotoxin, they still found a signal. Only calcium was blocked.
Even so, more studies are needed to see how dCaAPs behave in entire neurons and in a living system. In addition, researchers have to see if it’s a human thing or if these similar mechanisms also evolved in other species in the animal kingdom.