Mysterious 'Zombie Neurons' Unlock Secrets of Learning in The Brain

Researchers looking into mouse learning have unintentionally discovered "zombie neurons" in the brain - these are cells that cease communicating properly but still being functionally alive, not monsters who devour flesh and spread viruses. Additionally, they provided fresh insight into how the brain learns.

The cells were found by a Portuguese team conducting research on how the cerebellum, a region of the brain, picks up information from its surroundings.

Motor movement-related sensory data is processed by the cerebellum. It is crucial for learning as well as for getting around a busy street and picking up a drink without spilling it.

so that the next time we encounter anything, we may adjust our movement to avoid it. This new study looked at the precise process by which that learning occurs.

Through the use of optogenetics—the manipulation of cells by light—and mouse learning challenges, the researchers were able to demonstrate the critical function that climbing fibers, a kind of cerebellar input, play.

According to neuroscientist Tatiana Silva of the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown, "the mice learned to blink in response to that cue – even in the absence of stimulation—after we consistently stimulated climbing fibers during the presentation of a visual cue."