Waves Move Across the Human Brain to Support Memory

Summary: Alpha and theta oscillations move rhythmically across the brain, reflecting neural activity propagating across the cortex to help form working memory, a new study reports.

Source: Columbia University.

The coordination of neural activity across widespread brain networks is essential for human cognition. Researchers have long assumed that oscillations in the brain, commonly measured for research purposes, brain-computer interfacing, and clinical tests, were stationary signals that occurred independently at separate brain regions. Biomedical engineers at Columbia Engineering have discovered a new fundamental feature of brain oscillations: they actually move rhythmically across the brain, reflecting patterns of neuronal activity that propagate across the cortex. The study was published today in Neuron.

“We also found that these traveling waves moved more reliably when subjects performed well while performing a working memory task,” says Joshua Jacobs, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and senior author of the paper. “This indicates that traveling waves are significant for memory and cognition–our findings show that these oscillations are an important mechanism for large-scale coordination in the human brain.”

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