A seemingly simple action, such as picking up a pencil, actually involves complex communication between many parts of the central nervous system. Information about the pencil and its location enters the body through the eye, and eventually reaches a part of the brain called the somatosensory cortex.
There, this information seems to be encoded as two types of brain waves: gamma waves, which oscillate 30–80 times per second, and very fast oscillations (VFOs), which oscillate 80–160 times per second. These brain rhythms may then be conveyed to other parts of the brain to initiate and control the action of reaching out an arm to pick up the pencil.
If other parts of the brain also produce gamma waves and VFOs, it is possible that these brain regions could receive these signals from the somatosensory cortex, and communicate with this or other portions of the cerebral cortex to control movements. In fact, recent work measuring brain waves from the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for motor learning, indicates that the cerebellum may communicate with the cerebral cortex to regulate movement. A team of researchers, including Steven Middleton and Thomas Knöpfel from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI), Wako, Miles Whittington from Newcastle University, United Kingdom, and Roger Traub, now at IBM in New York, report these findings in the journal Neuron.
Tapping into brain waves
In slices from the mouse cerebellum that they had treated with nicotine, the researchers measured the frequency of oscillations using two methods: electrode recordings, and visualization of a voltage-sensitive dye. By both methods, they found that the cerebellar oscillations were a mixture of gamma waves and VFOs. These waves were almost identical in frequency to oscillations others had measured in the cerebral cortex during the same experimental conditions. This frequency match suggests that the cerebellum and cerebral cortex may exchange signals to control movement.