Brain structures are close to a phase transition

Neuroscience News

Summary: New research reveals that brain structures in humans, mice, and fruit flies are near a phase transition, suggesting a universal principle.
This discovery could enhance computational models of brain complexity.
Fractal-like patterns in brain cells suggest a phase transition state.
The study’s findings may lead to improved models of brain complexity.
“Several other researchers have studied brain criticality in terms of neuron dynamics.
“This finding opens the way to formulating simple physical models to capture statistical patterns of the brain structure.
Communications Physics Abstract Unveiling universal aspects of the cellularanatomy of the brain Recent cellular-level volumetric brain reconstructions have revealed high levels of anatomic complexity.
Here we quantify aspects of this complexity and show evidence that brain anatomy satisfies universal scaling laws, establishing the notion of structural criticality in the cellular structure of the brain.


Summary: A universal principle may be suggested by the discovery that the brain structures of fruit flies, mice, and humans are close to a phase transition. Fractal patterns, which are suggestive of criticality, were discovered to be present in brain cells.

This finding may improve computational representations of the complexity of the brain. The results provide fresh insight into the dynamics and structure of the brain.

Important Information:.

There is evidence of criticality in the brain structures of fruit flies, mice, and humans.

Brain cells with fractal-like patterns indicate a phase transition state.

The results of the study might result in more accurate brain complexity models.

Northwestern University is the source.

There comes a point at which a magnet loses its magnetization due to heat. This high complexity point, known as “criticality,” is attained when a physical object smoothly moves from one phase to the next.

The structural characteristics of the brain are found to be located in the vicinity of a similar critical point, which is either at or close to a structural phase transition, according to a recent Northwestern University research. These findings are surprisingly consistent in fruit flies, mice, and human brains, suggesting that the finding may be applicable to all brain types.

The researchers say that this new information could allow for new designs for computational models of the brain’s complexity and emergent phenomena, even though they are unsure of the phases the brain’s structure is transitioning between.

Communications Physics, a journal published by Nature Portfolio, published the research today, June 10.

The senior author of the study, István Kovács of Northwestern, stated, “The human brain is one of the most complex systems known, and many properties of the details governing its structure are not yet understood.”.

Numerous other investigators have examined brain criticality through the lens of neuron dynamics. But in the end, we hope to understand how criticality underlies the complexity of brain dynamics by examining it at the structural level.

That has been a crucial component missing from our understanding of the complexity of the brain. The dynamics and hardware of the brain are closely related, in contrast to a computer, where any software can run on any hardware. “.

The paper’s first author, Helen Ansell of Northwestern, stated, “The structure of the brain at the cellular level appears to be near a phase transition.”.

“When ice melts into water, it is a common example of this. The molecules of water remain unchanged, but they are changing from solid to liquid state.

We don’t claim that the brain is on the verge of melting. Actually, there is no way for us to determine which of the two phases the brain might be shifting between. Considering that it wouldn’t be a brain if it were on either side of the crucial point. “.

At Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Kovács teaches physics and astronomy as an assistant professor. Ansell is currently a Tarbutton Fellow at Emory University and was a postdoctoral researcher in his laboratory at the time of the study.

While electroencephalograms (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have long been used by researchers to study brain dynamics, it is only recently that advances in neuroscience have made large datasets available for the cellular structure of the brain.

Thanks to these data, Kovács and colleagues now have the ability to measure the physical structure of neurons using statistical physics techniques.

Kovács and Ansell examined data from 3D brain reconstructions of humans, fruit flies, and mice that were made available to the public for the new study. Through the use of nanoscale resolution imaging of the brain, the researchers discovered that the samples displayed physical characteristics typical of criticality.

One such characteristic is neurons’ well-known fractal-like structure. One example of a set of observables known as “critical exponents” that appear when a system is approaching a phase transition is this nontrivial fractal dimension.

At several scales, the arrangement of brain cells resembles a fractal statistical pattern. As the fractal shapes are magnified, they become “self-similar,” which indicates that the sample as a whole is reflected in smaller portions. Another hint comes from the wide range of neuron segment sizes that have been observed.

Kovács claims that broad size distributions, long-range correlations, and self-similarity are all indicators of a critical state in which features are neither overly ordered nor overly random. These findings result in a collection of critical exponents that define these structural attributes.

Kovács stated, “These are phenomena we observe in all critical systems in physics.”. It appears that the brain is balancing between two phases in a delicate manner. “.

Kovács and Ansell were astounded to discover that every brain sample they examined, including those from fruit flies, mice, and humans, had consistent critical exponents across species, indicating that they shared the same quantitative characteristics of criticality.

There may be a universal governing principle at work, as suggested by the underlying, compatible structures among organisms. Their new discoveries may contribute to the understanding of why various creatures’ brains exhibit some fundamental similarities.

According to Ansell, “at first glance, these structures appear quite different—a complete fly brain is about the size of a small human neuron.”. However, we later discovered remarkably similar emerging properties. “.

We used statistical physics’ recommendations to determine which traits, like critical exponents, may be shared by all organisms among the myriad traits that differ greatly from one another. Yes, those apply to all organisms, according to Kovács.

According to statistical physics, we can calculate the remaining critical exponents from any three, indicating a deeper indication of criticality.

The creation of basic physical models to represent statistical patterns in the structure of the brain is made possible by this discovery. These models can serve as valuable sources of information for dynamical brain models and serve as models for artificial neural network architectures. “.

The researchers then intend to apply their methods to newly developed datasets, which will include more organisms and larger brain regions. Their goal is to ascertain whether the universality will hold true.

Part of the computational resources at Northwestern University’s Quest high-performance computing facility went toward supporting the study, “Unveiling universal aspects of the cellular anatomy of the brain.”.

Regarding this news on neuroscience research.

Author: Morris, Amanda.

Northwestern University, the source.

Amanda Morris at Northwestern University can be contacted.

Picture: Neuroscience News is credited with this picture.

Original Study: Disclosed under open access.

“Unveiling universal aspects of the brain’s cellular anatomy” by István Kovács and colleagues. The Physics of Communications.


reveal aspects of the brain’s cellular anatomy that are universal.

Anatomic complexity has been revealed at high levels in recent cellular-level volumetric brain reconstructions. Finding the right structural features to emphasize in the brain is still a difficult task, particularly when contrasting it with computational models and other living things.

In this instance, we quantify some of this complexity and provide proof that the cellular structure of the brain satisfies universal scaling laws, thereby establishing the concept of structural criticality.

Our framework offers precise guidance in choosing informative structural properties of cellular brain anatomy by building upon our understanding of critical systems.

As an illustration, we obtain estimates for critical exponents in the human, mouse and fruit fly brains and show that they are consistent between organisms, to the extent that data limitations allow.

A crucial step towards creating generative computational models of the brain’s cellular structure is provided by these universal quantities, which also make it clear when one animal may be a good anatomic model for another. These quantities are robust to many of the microscopic details of the cellular structures of individual brains.

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