This research topic consists of 148 articles on various aspects of brain augmentation contributed by more than 600 authors. At the time of writing, the articles have been viewed online more than 1.3 million times and received plentiful citations in the scientific literature. The topic won the 2017 Frontiers Spotlight Award.
The topic theme, “Augmentation of brain function,” is an umbrella term for the approaches from different disciplines, aimed at the improvement of brain performance in both healthy people and patients suffering from neurological disabilities. Functions of the brain that scientists hope to augment belong to sensory, motor and cognitive domains. Brain enhancements could be achieved pharmacologically or using neurostimulation. Functional improvements can be also achieved with brain training techniques that employ modern technologies like computer games and virtual reality. Furthermore, brain performance can be augmented using brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), the pathways that connect neuronal circuits to external assistive devices, such as limb prostheses, exoskeletons, and communication aids. In addition to sending commands to external devices, BMIs can enable bidirectional communications, where artificial sensory signals are delivered to the brain while information is being decoded from neural recordings.
Even though many of the brain-augmenting ideas sound like science fiction, the topic authors feel optimistic about most of them. The overall consensus is that brain performance can be improved with artificial components, and this approach will lead to practical applications in the not-too-distant future. Many of the techniques covered in the topic, for example BMIs and noninvasive stimulation, have already experienced an explosive development. While expectations are high for the augmentation approaches, philosophers are warning about the ethical issues related to technologies that interfere with the mind, possibly in unpredictable ways. Although some of these concerns seem far-fetched, it is important that ethical standards are kept high as these revolutionary brain-augmenting methods are being developed.
The discovery of place-representing neurons in the hippocampal formation has been recognized by the Nobel Committee as a paradigm shift in Neuroscience (Burgess, 2014). Here we call attention to an innovative paper of particular note (Zhang and Manahan-Vaughan, 2015) that added important findings to this field of study.
Zhang and Manahan-Vaughan investigated the contribution of olfactory cues to the formation of place fields in hippocampal neurons. For this purpose, they put male Wistar rats in the darkness into a 80 × 80 cm square box. Four odors (orange, vanilla, almond, and lemon) were placed into the quadrants of the arena. Chocolate crumbs were scattered across the arena to encourage exploratory behavior. The researchers observed the formation of stable place fields in the hippocampal neurons, even though visual cues were unavailable to the rats. The place fields rotated when the odor placements were rotated, and remapped when the odors were shuffled. The authors concluded that “despite the less precise nature of olfactory stimuli compared with visual stimuli, these can substitute for visual inputs to enable the acquisition of metric information about space.”
Efficient brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) are in need of knowledge about the human brain and how it interacts, plays games, and socializes with other brains. A breakthrough can be achieved by revealing the microfoundations of sociality, an additional component of the utility function reflecting the value of contributing to group success derived from social identity. Building upon our previous behavioral work, we conduct a series of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments (N = 10 in the Pilot Study and N = 15 in the Main Study) to measure whether and how sociality alters the functional activation of and connectivity between specific systems in the brain. The overarching hypothesis of this study is that sociality, even in a minimal form, serves as a natural mechanism of sustainable cooperation by fostering interaction between brain regions associated with social cognition and those related to value calculation. We use group-based manipulations to induce varying levels of sociality and compare behavior in two social dilemmas: Prisoner’s Dilemma and variations of Ultimatum Game. We find that activation of the right inferior frontal gyrus, a region previously associated with cognitive control and modulation of the valuation system, is correlated with activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) to a greater degree when participants make economic decisions in a game with an acquaintance, high sociality condition, compared to a game with a random individual, low sociality condition. These initial results suggest a specific biological mechanism through which sociality facilitates cooperation, fairness and provision of public goods at the cost of individual gain. Future research should examine neural dynamics in the brain during the computation of utility in the context of strategic games that involve social interaction for a larger sample of subjects.
Our aim was to study the influence of fatigue development on sensory gating during a muscle load. The fatiguing task was sustained contraction of a handgrip dynamometer with 7 and 30% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). The suppression of P50, an auditory event-related potential, was used as the sensory gating index in the paired-click paradigm with a 500 ms interstimulus interval; the difference between the P50 amplitudes of the first and the second stimuli of the pair was used as the sensory gating index. We found that the 30% MVC fatigue development strongly decreased sensory gating, sometimes totally suppressing it. We concluded that central fatigue impaired motor performance and strongly suppressed inhibitory processes, as shown by the decreased P50 amplitude to the second stimulus. Therefore, muscle central fatigue influences sensory gating, similar to schizophrenia spectrum disorders.