I'm in Germany this week, in a sleepy little southern town called Reutlingen, attending the MEA2010 conference. I'm here to present our most recent work, talk to other MEA nerds and berate Multi Channel Systems employees until they implement basic spike sorting in MC_Rack. MEA stands for multielectrode array; the focus of the conference is multi-unit electrophysiology, mostly neural networks cultured on titanium arrays in glass dishes, but the whole spectrum of techniques and analysis methods is represented: yesterday we saw analysis of data from an electrode net the size of a small hand that goes right on the top of the brain, more on that in a bit.
German is frustratingly close to my native Swedish and yet impossible to understand. Almost. Spielplatz must mean playground, speil sounding like a variant of spel (game in Swedish) and platz like plats (ground in this context, though it really means location). Spielplatz = gameground. In Swedish we say lekplats, lek meaning play. It doesn't help, I'm still a tourist, and the heat is just as bad here as in England. People at the conference are mostly from Europe and East Asia, many languages spoken in the hallways and a lot of poor English (Globish, according to yesterday's Start The Week). There's maybe 200 people here in the big hall now, though it's still pretty early; leave it to the Germans to serve food and wine until 23:00 and then start talks at 8:30 the next morning. It's ok, my hotel is ten minutes away.
Pascal Fries and entitled 'Unravelling the brain-wide web of attention'. It was very good. Fries looks like he could be 25 years old but is a Prof., a P.I. and an M.D. He was showing us evidence that objects are held in visual attention by selective synchronization of distributed but functionally relevant brain regions in the gamma (feed forward, Granger = 0.02) and beta (feed back) bands (and a mystery band at 30 Hz). The data was recorded using a large net of a few hundred 1 mm diameter electrodes placed at 2 mm distance across almost the entire right hemisphere of two monkeys trained to respond to some visual stimuli and ignore others. The stimuli was known to hit specific regions in visual cortex, and activity in these region was subsequently compared with activity across the brain, using the net. The degree of synchrony in the gamma band predicted fast reaction time, so I'm wondering if synchrony in the molluskan buccal ganglia predict feeding rate. In question time I asked him what his thinking was on the mechanism by which the network associated with one stimulus becomes able to entrain others. The answer: given sufficient dopamine and noradrenaline tone, the network will establish coherence by activating interneurons in target regions. Signal-to-noise.
I actually asked him two questions, and having finished answering the first question he appeared ready to move to another questioner before catching himself and exclaiming "Oh, right, the second stimulus.. eh I mean second question". It's ok man, no need to speak humaneese, we're all neuroscientists here. Anyway, I should pay attention to the talks. Great wireless at a conference is both a blessing and a curse. Mostly blessing though.