Keith Hengen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, a private research university in St. Louis, Missouri, delivers an interesting overview of his research and what it could bode for understanding disease development.
Hengen discusses his self-described “wandering” path to get to the area of his current research. He outlines some context to explain the kinds of research he delves into. Hengen provides an overview of brain function, in regard to some of its processing. As he explains, the brain is not crystallized or ‘locked in’ and our synapses are responding to various experiences all throughout the day. Change is occurring rapidly and yet the final outcome at the end of the day so to speak is incredibly stable. We think a myriad of thoughts and learn things, but the foundation of who we are remains stable. He explains how our continuous narrative, our identity remains steadfast and firm, in spite of millions of interactions and inputs, and constant learning/changes. The brain is computationally stable, and this is one way our brains differ from artificial neural networks.
Hengen’s neuroscience laboratory at Washington University focuses on the investigation of the role of sleep and wake in chaperoning various interactions between specific and distinct plasticity mechanisms.
Hengen recounts some of his experiences in the lab and some of the findings that have come forth during their research. He goes into detail about particular experimentation, discussing findings regarding cortex issues in healthy mice, discussing the organizational processes, and criticality. He explains how networks of neurons work, and how information is encoded. Hengen details how there are many variances to the same neural responses to the same stimulus. Neurons are not always predictable. While you can make predictions and averages, variances produce invariant behavior. And diseases can develop when there are variances.
Hengen’s lab’s primary area of research and interests are based in the self-organization of select intact neural networks that support functions such as sensation, perception, and cognition, and how information transmission within these important systems is established during the development process, and ultimately disrupted in disease.