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Press Release:

MEDIA CONTACT: Paige Garrido
561-297-3911, pgarrido@fau.edu

FAU Neuroscientists Forge Path toward Understanding the Human Brain

Findings Identify Principles that May Shed Light on Diseases Such as Autism and Schizophrenia

BOCA RATON, Fla. (March 13, 2014) – Florida Atlantic University neuroscientist Emmanuelle Tognoli, Ph.D., and J.A. Scott Kelso, Ph.D., neuroscientist and eminent scholar in science, at the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences at FAU, recently published research in the prestigious journal Neuron titled “The Metastable Brain.” The article indicates that metastable dynamics – a subtle blend of integration and segregation in the brain that occurs on multiple levels (cells, brain regions, networks) – underlies the real-time coordination necessary for the brain’s dynamic cognitive, behavioral and social functions.

“Metastability can be visualized in terms of a line; with too much segregation on the left end of the line and too much integration on the right end of the line leading to disorders. The brain functions best somewhere in the middle where there is a dynamic balance of segregation and integration,” said Tognoli.  “If it is out of balance, it can lead to diseases such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy.”

This research is timely as federal funding in support of the B.R.A.I.N. Initiative was approved early this year. The initiative is intended to accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.

“We know how neurons fire and we know they are connected,” said Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health in a 2013 interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We don’t know how they act in concert to govern behavior, the essential question in treating neurological disease and mental health disorders.”

While the majority of research conducted nationally is focused on “mapping” the brain, Tognoli and Kelso’s work focuses on how brain activity evolves in space and time on a millisecond timescale during the course of ordinary behavior. The researchers use a quantitative approach to brain coordination to learn about the whole “parameter space,” or all the space on the line between segregation and integration. 

One of the next steps in this line of research will be to analyze which drugs are sound based on the theory of metastability. Furthermore, researchers can study which interventions will produce ineffective or counterintuitive consequences — as would happen with drugs that enhance segregation.

Kelso, Tognoli and their colleagues’ work on the human brain and behavior is carried out on FAU’s Boca Raton campus under the auspices of the National Institute of Mental Health. FAU also has a research cluster of close to three dozen neuroscientists working at the John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter. These neuroscientists work on complementary ways to understand the brain using animal models and focusing on neural circuitry in collaboration with researchers from Scripps Florida and Max Planck Florida Institute.

For more information, contact Paige Garrido at 561-297-4526 or pgarrido@fau.edu.

-FAU-

About Florida Atlantic University:
Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of three signature themes – marine and coastal issues, biotechnology and contemporary societal challenges – which provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.

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