New Study Suggests Wiring in Brain is More Random than Previously Believed October 09, 2015

Jason Triplett

This is another case for the brain being more flexible than originally thought.

A Children’s National Health System study, in collaboration with research groups at the University of California, San Francisco and University of California, Santa Cruz, has found unexpected flexibility in the rules governing neuronal circuit formation in the brain.

Neuronal connections responsible for processing vision in the brain are often organized in what are known as topographic maps, says Jason W. Triplett, PhD,  Principal Investigator, Neuroscience, for the Children's Research Institute and co-author of the study published in Neuron

For years, it was widely known that molecular cues and neuronal activity play critical roles in map formation, but researchers were uncertain how these forces interact. In this new research, investigators found that the formation of the maps does not adhere to a rigid wiring diagram, and instead there appears to be a “push-pull” interaction between molecules and activity.

The formation of a proper pattern of neuronal circuits during development is critical for the normal function of the brain, and while the impact of the study isn’t immediately known, Dr. Triplett says it could have broad implications.

“These findings not only resolve the issue of the relative roles of molecular cues and activity in the establishment of topography, but also show a novel stochasticity in this process,” Dr.Triplett and colleagues wrote in the study. The term stochastic refers to unpredictable nature of systems, due to the influence of variable randomness. Ultimately, this means that visual projections may be organized differently from individual to individual. 

Understanding the forces driving this is critical for developing medications to compensate for alterations in connectivity associated with disease states, such as autism and intellectual disability, according to Dr. Triplett.

“This is a significant finding because it shows broad differences from what was previously believed and scientists should rethink how we interpret current models of neuronal connection development, particularly in the visual system,” Dr. Triplett says.

Contact: Lauren Lytle at 202-476-4500.


About Children’s National Health System

Children’s National Health System, based in Washington, DC, has been serving the nation’s children since 1870. Children’s National is ranked in the top 20 in every specialty evaluated by U.S. News & World Report; one of only four children’s hospitals in the nation to earn this distinction. Designated a Leapfrog Group Top Hospital and a two-time recipient of Magnet® status, this pediatric academic health system offers expert care through a convenient, community-based primary care network and specialty outpatient centers. Home to the Children’s Research Institute and the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National is one of the nation’s top NIH-funded pediatric institutions. Children’s National is recognized for its expertise and innovation in pediatric care and as a strong voice for children through advocacy at the local, regional and national levels. For more information, visit, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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