Forbes reports that a group of scientists just discovered a new type of neuron in the human brain not found in other species. They’re calling it the “rosehip” neuron. It got its name from Tamás and University of Szeged grad student Eszter Boldog when the two noticed the neuron resembled a rose that’s shed its petals.
The group’s finding was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. But a number of questions remain unanswered. No one knows exactly how it influences human behavior or experience. However, this discovery also points out potential problems in science that we didn’t know existed. There is a neuron in human brains that is missing from the brains of animals like mice, which are often used as a model for human brains in experiments. Could this mean current experiments are yielding inaccurate results?
The researchers found the new neuron by analyzing the brains of two males who died in their 50’s. They looked at samples of their brains that had been taken from the neocortex, which according to scientists, is a recent evolutionary development that helps us with higher-order thinking. According to Trygve Bakken, co-author of the paper, “The neocortex, the outermost layer of cells, is greatly expanded in humans–about a thousandfold compared to mice. From neurological studies, if you have a stroke in your neocortex, for example, it really impacts your ability to do these sorts of high-order cognitive processing.”
So far we don’t know a great deal about rosehip neurons but we do know they are inhibitory. Bakken says, “We all have inhibitory neurons and excitatory neurons, but this particular type of inhibitory neuron is what’s new in this study. It’s special based on its shape and its connections and also the genes that it expresses.”
Inhibitory neurons control the flow of information but what type of information rosehip neurons control has yet to be discovered. Bakken went on to say, “It has these really discrete connections with [pyramidal] neurons. It has the potential to sort of manipulate the circuit in a really targeted way, but how that influences behavior will have to come in later work.”
The researchers plan to see whether or not the rosehip neuron is located anywhere else in the brain. They’re also going to look for it in the brains of deceased individuals who also suffered from certain neuropsychiatric illnesses to see if rosehip neurons could possibly play a role in disease.