New role for the brain’s hippocampus discovered

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The hippocampus is that region of the brain that resembles a seahorse composed of gray matter and deep in the skull, and that now seems to have a new function, it is a sensorial intensifier.

A new research has concluded that the activity of this brain region is linked to several zones of the cerebral cortex in order to mediate sensory processes. In addition to making us better understand how the brain works, the discovery may bring therapeutic benefits to those suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

The revolutionary discovery was carried out by researchers at the University of Hong Kong, using light to activate nerves in the brains of rats and later using a magnetic resonance imaging process to observe the results.

Unfortunately, much of the information we have about the functioning of the brain is a product of the analyzes of patients who suffered from trauma, affecting different regions of the brain, and has helped us to better understand the specific function of each brain.

Patients suffering from damage to the hippocampus zone, for example, often suffer from amnesia, while individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s usually have a lack of tissue in this area of the brain.

There are also other cases linked to hippocampal functions, such as schizophrenia and epilepsy, which shows that this brain zone is much more active and important than what it might seem at first sight.

In recent years, scientists have been dedicated to studying functional connectivity, which is basically how the various regions of the brain interact. This is not always a simple process, and scientists usually use magnetic resonance imaging, but they have to apply very powerful statistical tools to determine the relationships that exist.

One thing seems certain, because of the amount of nerve endings that connect to the hippocampus, it has influence on several processes, although there is no certainty as to what the dependency will be on the functional connectivity of the brain in general.

The team discovered by using a process called optogenic stimulation that while activating the hippocampus with a low frequency, similar to when we are in a deep sleep, generates activity in the cerebral cortex, which is basically the area where deep thoughts are processed, the combination of sensations, memories, language and congruent analysis.

This test raised the suspicion that the hippocampus would have influence as a sensory enhancer, and since it is apparent that the sensory functions in the hippocampus and in the cerebral cortex are interconnected, especially during sleep, it seems that the latter actually does.

This discovery may probably help to create better treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s or epilepsy, and it also helps us better understand the complex functioning of the brain.

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