Single neurons in the brain’s primary visual cortex can reliably detect straight lines, even though the cellular makeup of the neurons is constantly changing, according to a new study by Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientists, led by Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Sandra Kuhlman. The study’s findings, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Scientific Reports on Oct. 16, lay the groundwork for future studies into how the sensory system reacts and adapts to changes.

Most of us assume that when we see something regularly, like our house or the building where we work, our brain is responding in a reliable way with the same neurons firing. It would make sense to assume that the same would hold true when we see simple horizontal or vertical lines.

“The building our lab is in has these great stately columns,” said Kuhlman. “The logical assumption is that as we approach the building each day our brains are recognizing the columns, which are essentially straight lines, in the same way. Scientifically, we had no idea if this was true.”

Additional study authors include: Brian B. Jeon and Professor Steven M. Chase from the CMU Department of Biomedical Engineering and joint Pitt/CMU Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition; Jeffery T. Good from the CMU Department of Biological Sciences; and Alex D. Swain from the University of Pittsburgh Integrative Systems Biology Program.   more…