Tuesday, 15 February 2022 09:58

Patient study: mathematics neurons identified in the brain Featured

Involving epilepsy patients with electrodes in the brain, researchers at the Universities of Bonn and Tübingen have discovered that individual neurons are responsible for addition or subtraction during math performance. It did not matter whether the arithmetic task had been posed in symbol or word form.

For their observations, the scientific team under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Florian Mormann from the Clinic for Epileptology at the University of Bonn benefited from epilepsy patients. To precisely localize seizures, electrodes are implanted in patients' brains.  As a positive side effect, the activity of individual neurons can be measured precisely.

Five women and four men took part in the current study. They were implanted with tiny electrodes in the so-called temporal lobe of the brain in order to measure and record the activity of individual nerve cells. Meanwhile, the participants had to perform simple arithmetic tasks.

For the study, tiny electrodes were implanted in the brains of five women and four men to measure the activity of individual nerve cells.
Photo: Christian Burkert/Volkswagen Foundation/University of Bonn

According to the study, some of the neurons found fired exclusively during additions, while others fired during subtractions. The neurons also fired when the arithmetic tasks had been written down in words. Interestingly, one of the brain regions studied was the so-called parahippocampal cortex. There, too, there were neurons that fired specifically during addition or subtraction. However, when summing during one and the same arithmetic task, different addition neurons were alternately active.

Some neurons in the brain become specifically active during addition tasks, others during subtraction.
Photo: Christian Burkert/Volkswagen Foundation/University of Bonn

Also involved in the study was Prof. Dr. Andreas Nieder of the University of Tübingen, who normally works has non-human primates to solve such tasks.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Current Biology:
Esther F. Kutter, Jan Bostroem, Christian E. Elger, Andreas Nieder, Florian Mormann: Neuronal codes for arithmetic rule processing in the human brain; Current Biology; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.01.054


Working group of Prof. Mormann: