Brown offers new theory for beta waves in the brain

Beta waves (or rhythms) in the brain happen at 20 Hz frequency. | File photo
Brown University neuroscientists recently led the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences team in developing a theory to explain the way that beta waves happen in the human brain.

The research receives support from animal models, people, and computational simulation.

Beta waves (or rhythms) in the brain happen at 20 Hz frequency. Typically, these waves are connected to sensation, attention, and motion. These waves also show connections to Parkinson’s disease, among other illnesses. Researchers are unsure how these waves happen, whether they are because of an activity, or whether they have a significant purpose in the brain.

The theory states that external brainwave readings, detailed electrical recordings, and enhanced computation simulations show new explanations for beta waves.

“A first step to understanding beta’s causal role in behavior or pathology, and how to manipulate it for optimal function, is to understand where it comes from at the cellular and circuit level,” Stephanie Jones, research associate professor of neuroscience at Brown University, said. “Our study combined several techniques to address this question and proposed a novel mechanism for spontaneous neocortical beta. This discovery suggests several possible mechanisms through which beta may impact function.”

The researchers hypothesize that beta waves originate in the thalamus, which can send signals to dendrites on pyramidal neurons located in the cortex. Now the scientists want to determine whether the beta waves affect or reflect the brain’s health and behavior.

“An active and growing field of neuroscience research is trying to manipulate brain rhythms for optimal function with stimulation techniques,” Jones said. “We hope that our novel finding on the neural origin of beta will help guide research to manipulate beta, and possibly other rhythms, for improved function in sensorimotor pathologies.”

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