The Languages of Senses

28th Sep 2016

How sensory pathways (sight, touch, hearing) emerge during childhood has been under debate for some time. Now new research, published in Nature, is to be thrown into the mix. 

Neuroscientists from University of Geneva (UNIGE) discovered a sensory 'lingua franca', by identifying gene expressions common to sight, touch and hearing, which facilitates the brain's interpretation and integration of sensory input. 

Looking at the process of development of the sensory pathways in both mice and humans, they discovered that initially the pathways share a common gene expression structure, which then adapts to the organ attached to each sense.  The 'lingua franca' is a shared language that allows the brain to accurately interpret stimuli from different sources and compose a representation of their combined meaning.

This fascinating new idea helps to explain how various pathways can become over-developed (i.e. born blind people tend to have a better hearing than sighted born people) and also why sensory interferences, like synaesthesia, can occur in people suffering neurodevelopmental disorders. 

Practical applications of this research is to help repair damaged brain circuits in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and schizophrenia. 

To read the full article please visit Nature website.

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