AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020


Tuning Arousal to Boost Information Transmission in the Brain

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In daily life, how our brain processes sensory information depends upon on our state of mind, for instance, how drowsy or alert we are. Biomedical engineer Qi Wang, whose research focuses on deciphering neural codes that underlie our perception and cognition, wondered if state of mind—whether we are anxious, attentive, or relaxed—affects the way we perceive the world. If it does, and we can understand the mechanisms underpinning brain-state-dependent regulation of perception, then we can use these mechanisms to improve our perception using brain-machine interfaces. 

A new study from Wang, who is developing innovative ways of selectively activating neural circuitry to enhance perception and cognition, demonstrates a major advance in understanding how the locus coeruleus (LC) modulates information processing in the thalamus. The principal site of norepinephrine production in the brain, the LC is thought to play an essential role in regulating brain states such as arousal, attention, and stress. Its malfunction has also been linked to anxiety, clinical depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. 

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