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Updated: February 22, 2010 00:47 IST

Indian scientist’s research on speed of brain grabs international attention

K. Santhosh
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Dr. Nixon M. Abraham. Photo: Special Arrangement
Dr. Nixon M. Abraham. Photo: Special Arrangement

An Indian scientist has won international attention through his research on mechanisms that control the speed of brain.

The findings of Nixon M. Abraham, who hails from Thrissur and works in the Laboratory of Sensory Perception and Plasticity in the Department of Fundamental Neuroscience of the University of Geneva, have been published as a cover story in the February 11 issue (Volume 65) of Neuron, an internationally-reputed neuroscience journal.

Dr. Abraham, with the support of his colleagues, conducted experiments in the smelling pathway of mouse brain to find the mechanisms that control the speed of detecting different smells. They used a combination of behavioural, molecular biological and electro-physiological tools to reach their conclusions.

“We concluded that the inhibition exhibited by a specific type of neurons called granule cells in the olfactory bulb [a part of mouse forebrain and the first relay station in the smelling pathway] control the speed of processing different smells. After modifying the function of granule cells by removing specific receptor sub-types [AMPA receptor sub-units] on the granule cells, we found the mice were able to detect the complex smells faster than the normal mice do,” he told The Hindu on a visit to Thrissur.

In 2004, Dr. Abraham published another important finding that the mouse brain needed more time to process complex smells than simple smells. He won the Ruprecht-Karls Award 2008 of the University of Heidelberg and the Joachim Siebeneicher Prize for his Ph.D. thesis titled ‘Mechanisms of odour discrimination in the olfactory bulb of mice,’ the first Indian student to do so.

At the award presentation ceremony, jury chairman Paul Kirchhof noted that Dr. Abraham had proved a conventional belief wrong that smelling was a slow sensory performance.

“By applying challenging behavioural tests and working with mice model system he showed that olfactory or smell nerve cells convey their information to the first point in the brain, the olfactory bulb, where the smell information is processed with similar speed compared with that by other sensory systems. The work also analysed in detail the role of olfactory bulb in odour discrimination,” he said.

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