Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 192, Issue 8, pp 777-784

First online:

How silent is the brain: is there a “dark matter” problem in neuroscience?

  • Shy ShohamAffiliated withFaculty of Biomedical Engineering, Technion-Israel Institute of TechnologyDepartment of Molecular Biology, Princeton University
  • , Daniel H. O’ConnorAffiliated withDepartment of Molecular Biology, Princeton University
  • , Ronen SegevAffiliated withDepartment of Molecular Biology, Princeton University Email author 

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Evidence from a variety of recording methods suggests that many areas of the brain are far more sparsely active than commonly thought. Here, we review experimental findings pointing to the existence of neurons which fire action potentials rarely or only to very specific stimuli. Because such neurons would be difficult to detect with the most common method of monitoring neural activity in vivoextracellular electrode recording—they could be referred to as “dark neurons,” in analogy to the astrophysical observation that much of the matter in the universe is undetectable, or dark. In addition to discussing the evidence for largely silent neurons, we review technical advances that will ultimately answer the question: how silent is the brain?