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Physical basis of Neurophysiology

  1. Aug 10, 2010 #1
    Any suggestions on how to go about becoming a researcher in this area?

    I have very little formal background in math and physics and will be studying this on my spare time (which means when I'm not working on the cognitive stuff, though I would love to integrate something more rigorous into my thesis), as such I require an easy introduction to this field (although I've always been very good at math). I really don't know where to start (both in terms of the math and physics) and most of what I find are mathematical models of neurons with very little reference to condensed matter physics.

    It would be great if the forum could offer me some guidance on this issue.

    Thanks a lot!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2010 #2
    You'll first need to get an Bachelor's in an appropriate field. I would assume something like a bio-physics major with some kind of "Physiology" focused minor.
    Then you'll need to go on to graduate school in an appropriate field. I believe there is research on neural physiology in many fields.
    You could go to grad school for psychology, cognitive neural psychology, kinesiology, medical school, bio-physics, etc.

    I don't know what your background is, but here is a synopsis of neurophysiology (my previous degree is in Kinesiology):

    Nerves send impulses in two fundamental fashions, electrical and chemical.
    The electrical impulse travels down the axon (long "arm-like" part of the nerve). This electrical signal doesn't actually travel through the nerve....if "jumps" along fatty "sleeves" that surround the axon, called Myelin sheaths. Without this myelin, the nerves cannot send signals as quickly (e.g. the demyelination found in MS patients)

    Once this electrical signal hits the soma, or "body" of the nerve cell, it has to be transformed into a chemical impulse. This is because the signal must be transfered to other nerve cells across the synapse (the junction between nerve cells).
    The electrical signal triggers various processes that send out chemical messengers into this synaptic space.
    The chemicals can then bind to receptors on the neighboring nerve cell. Once receptor binding occurs in the new cell, that nerve "converts" the chemical message back to an electrical message that travels down the axon (jumping from myelin to myelin) of the new nerve cell.

    There are many areas of research for this process.
    The entirety of anti-depressants, ADHD medications, etc., are based on affecting the chemical transfer between nerves.
    They are typically designed to decrease the rate at which the chemicals are reabsorbed by the first nerve, thus increasing the time that the chemicals spend in the synaptic space....and increasing the amount of that chemical that eventually binds to the receptors of the next nerve.

    There are also more mathematically based research approaches. I don't know a lot about these, but I would imagine they work to model the general "mix" of nerves that are signaled to "fire" for a particular activity. Even the most minor of events will trigger a HUGE number of nerves to fire. Each activity will have some percentage of nerve cells that are also triggered for many other activities.

    I've always had the thought that our "memories" are caused by the constant "re-stimulation" of past nerve firings. The nerves in our brains are constantly sending signals. Every time a particular batch of nerves send a signal, they are effectively repeating some percentage of the batch of nerves from every previous experience (memory) we've had.

    I would guess that our attempts to recall these memories creates a reinforcing environment for the particular group of nerves that were firing when that memory was "created." As this process is reinforced, the nerve-grouping (memory) becomes closer and closer to the original firing that caused the memory.

    So, attempting to recall very faint memories (...it's right on the tip of my tongue...) begins with a very small percentage of the "correct" pattern of nerve firings...which causes a lower level of reinforcement...which keeps the percentage of correct nerves lower than a memory that is very clear (...I remember like it was yesterday)

    *I hope this isn't viewed as an overly-speculative, or personal "theory" type post. It isn't intended that way.
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