Next time you think that your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, it might not be the synapses that are to blame—according to a bold new theory being put forth by Israeli scientists, it might be your dendrites that are having trouble!
In a peer-reviewed study published Thursday in Scientific Reports, a journal by Nature, a team of Israeli scientists from Bar-Ilan University led by Professor Ido Kanter believes that learning in our brains doesn’t actually happen in the nerve impulses relayed in the small gaps between neurons, but in the dendrites, finger-like extensions of nerve cells.
Kanter and his team have spent years studying brain activity in animals. It has been a widely held belief by the scientific and medical community for years that the bulk of learning occurs in the synapses. But Kanter believes their findings could revolutionize treatment for degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Today, the focus of most research for medications is synapses, but if some of it starts to focus on dendrites, we have an opportunity to open up new possibilities in medicine development in the light of our findings,” Kanter said.
Dendrites use far less energy than synapses, and Kanter said this could impact the field of computer science and machine learning (Artificial Intelligence) which has based its theories for 70 years on the power of synapses.
“Dendrite learning is far more efficient than the functioning of synapses, helping to explain why it is that brains are far slower than computers but can actually do much more in some respects. As we understand dendrite learning better, I believe it will enable us to imitate its very efficient nature in artificial intelligence,” Kanter said. “This could pave the way to much more powerful computers that work much faster and analyze much more data in limited time. The sky could be the limit.”