MIT Study Finds Striking Difference Between Neurons of Humans and Other Mammals; Human Neurons Have Lower Density of Ion Channels, Which Might Have Allowed Human Brain to Divert Energy to Other Neural Processes, Researchers Suggest in Nature Article

Neurons communicate with each other via electrical impulses, which are produced by ion channels that control the flow of ions such as potassium and sodium. In a surprising new finding, MIT neuroscientists have shown that human neurons have a much smaller number of these channels than expected, compared to the neurons of other mammals. The researchers hypothesize that this reduction in channel density may have helped the human brain evolve to operate more efficiently, allowing it to divert resources to other energy-intensive processes that are required to perform complex cognitive tasks. “If the brain can save energy by reducing the density of ion channels, it can spend that energy on other neuronal or circuit processes,” says Mark Harnett, PhD, an Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study, which was published online on November 10, 2021 in Nature. The article is titled “Allometric Rules for Mammalian Cortical Layer 5 Neuron Biophysics.”

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