But Miller did not accept that anatomy was everything. Circuits don’t change quickly enough to produce the fluidity of behavior and cognition. He formulated a hypothesis that also employs a car metaphor: Circuit anatomy provides the infrastructure of roads, but rhythms guide which ones are actually driven during a particular behavior. A rhythm provides this direction and coordination because only the ensembles of neurons that join in the oscillation gain the ability to communicate and cooperate with each other, as if on a conference call.
Sure enough, evidence has been mounting – including three new papers from Miller’s lab – that brain rhythms have a causal role in brain function. This growing consensus suggests that manipulating them could help patients. Several Picower Institute research findings over the last 15 months, including in lab of Picower Professor and Institute Director Li-Huei Tsai, have made this prospect especially enticing. They directly point to new ways that non-invasively instilling brain rhythms might benefit patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive and attentional deficits.
As experiments testing this potential are getting underway, the Institute will also highlight rhythms at a symposium April 4 in which experts including Miller will discuss “Brain Rhythms in Health and Disease”. The symposium will explore the newest thinking about how studying and altering brain rhythms could address neurological and psychiatric disease, often in cases where drugs have not.