As the human brain develops, neurons not only extend but also form different configurations in response to stimuli from the outside world. Professor Yamane uses his own distinctive experimental techniques to shed light on the mechanisms of neural development.
External stimuli help shape our neuronal networks
A human brain contains around 100 billion neurons. These cells have protrusions known as neurites that extend and interconnect to form circuits. External stimuli received by our senses are converted in the brain into electrical signals, which run through these newly-forming neuronal circuits. This results in changes to the arrangement of the circuits.
We already know that the neuronal connections in the brains of babies are altered as they receive a variety of external stimuli. What is not yet understood, however, is exactly how this alteration process takes place. Twins, for example, will end up with different neuronal networks if they are raised in different environments.
Focusing on the branching of neurites
In the course of development, neurites extend in the proper direction, branch out, and make contact with other neurons. My research focuses on this branching characteristic. I look at how influences from the external environment can make branching more or less pronounced, and why the branching is particularly prevalent during childhood.
Recently I have been looking for characteristics that are distinctive to humans. I want to know how human neural mechanisms are different from those in other mammals. I have found intriguing hints suggesting that as mammals evolve, they may experience more dramatic changes in their neuronal circuits in response to external stimuli. It is difficult to use experiments to investigate the unique characteristics of humans, but I am hoping that new methods will eventually lead to new discoveries.
When ideas leap ahead
Coming across an important new methodology can often trigger a major advancement in your research work. Similar leaps forward can also be made when you are committed to making a change in yourself, or when you encounter something that motivates you to change. I believe that there is a decisive point in every student’s growth. You will only get to this point through hard work hard from day to day, but that doesn’t mean that hard work guarantees success. It is just as important to try different approaches and be prepared for failure as you search for new ideas.
Experimentation is central to the research conducted in my lab. As the word itself suggests, ‘experimentation’ is about experiences that that generate results. It is essential to have a diversity of experiences. Experimentation must never become simple routine work.
“Taking a bite” from many different worlds
I hope that HWIP students will visit many different labs and experience many different research cultures. In Osaka dialect we have the term itchokami to describe this idea of seeking numerous broad, shallow experiences. If you can “take a bite” of many different things, it will be easier to come back to them next time you need them. I believe that this is will provide a stepping stone to the next stage in your research. I encourage all students to embrace the itchokami spirit.