Dmitry Vorontsov
Koltzov Institute of Developmental Biology of Russian Academy of Sciences

Brain without reflexes: predicting instead of reacting

Our brain – is it active or reactive? Does it operate by itself, like the heart beats, or consists of numerous reflex arcs, each of them requiring some signal from the world to activate it? We already know the answer to this question for the parts of the brain that control movements. Experiments made on different animals – from insects and mollusks to mammals – proved the existence of central pattern generators. They are specific neuronal networks that create the patterns for muscle contractions even in the absence of external signals, in the isolated brain. But what about other brain functions – sensory and cognitive? Do they rely on external signals as a primary source of their activity?