February 4, 2009

re: another SHOCK

Yes, it was simple for a while: Neurons ruled! The story was that brain activity = neuronal activity; that neurons were the only cells that really mattered; that changes in metabolism & blood flow were merely (but reliable) downstream consequences of changes in neuronal spiking.

But now we know that things are more complicated.

The latest finding is that blood flow anticipates stimuli; that areas of visual cortex containing neurons tuned for a location in visual space where a stimulus is expected, literally blush due solely to that expectation, even when the stimulus fails to appears, and the neurons do not increase their activity.

Recently we saw another finding that diminishes the supremacy of the neuron; namely that another population of brain cells, the astrocytes, have their metabolism tuned to stimulus attributes.

Can we call the old oversimple view, imputing dominance to only one type of cell, "neuronist"? I call for us to come together, put neuronal chauvinism (neuronism?) behind us, and celebrate the diversity of our cerebral cell communities!

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