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‘Singing brains’ discovered

19 May 2009

A scan of a volunteer’s brain, including a superimposed MEG gamma oscillation activation mapA scan of a volunteer’s brain, including a superimposed MEG gamma oscillation activation map

Studying the way a person’s brain ‘sings’ could improve our understanding of conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia and help develop better treatments, experts from the School of Psychology have discovered.

The University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) discovered that a person’s brain produces a unique electrical oscillation at a particular frequency when a person looks at a visual pattern.

The frequency of this oscillation appears to be determined by the concentration of a neurotransmitter chemical, GABA, in the visual cortex of each person’s brain. The more GABA was present, the higher the frequency or "note" of the oscillation. GABA is a key inhibitory neurotransmitter and is essential for the normal operation of the brain.

Professor Krish Singh, School of Psychology, said: "Using sophisticated MEG and MRI brain imaging equipment, we’ve found that when a person looks at a visual pattern their brain produces an electrical signal, known as a gamma oscillation, at a set frequency.

"In effect, each person’s brain ‘sings’ at a different note in the range 40-70 Hz. This is similar to the notes in the lowest octaves of a standard piano keyboard or the lower notes on a bass guitar. Importantly, we also found that this frequency appears to be controlled by how much of an essential neurotransmitter, GABA, is present in a person’s visual cortex."

The team believe their findings will have important implications for future clinical studies, especially in terms of increasing our understanding of conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia, where it is known that there may be a problem with GABA.

Professor Singh added: "As a result of our research, we are already looking to share this work with our medical colleagues. In particular, we hope that the study of gamma oscillation frequency will provide a new window into the action of neurotransmitters such as GABA and how their function is compromised in diseases such as epilepsy and schizophrenia."

"We also believe that our findings could have important implications for the development, production and effectiveness of drugs to treat these and other neurological conditions."

"The research was carried out by Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, School of Psychology, Dr Richard Edden, School of Chemistry, Dr Jenni Swettenham and Professor Derek Jones, School of Psychology, and was led by Professor Krish Singh, School of Psychology. It has recently been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA."

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