Maybe the brain communicates via electrical fields after all

An interesting finding by scientists at Case Western Reserve University, that neurons may communicate via electrical fields:

Scientists think they’ve identified a previously unknown form of neural communication that self-propagates across brain tissue, and can leap wirelessly from neurons in one section of brain tissue to another – even if they’ve been surgically severed.

…To that end, Durand and his team investigated slow periodic activity in vitro, studying the brain waves in hippocampal slices extracted from decapitated mice.

What they found was that slow periodic activity can generate electric fields which in turn activate neighbouring cells, constituting a form of neural communication without chemical synaptic transmission or gap junctions.

It’s important to note that these results happened in vitro, that is, in an artificial environment outside of a living brain.  Still, this is the first time anyone has been able to scientifically demonstrate a form of communication between neurons called ephaptic coupling, communication via electrical field, which is regarded as a “jaw dropping” result.

Indeed it’s so jaw dropping that skepticism is called for.  We need to see replication of these results by other teams.  Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that caution will be heeded in a lot of circles.  I suspect a lot of people are going to run with this result, regardless of its limitations and uncertainties.

It will be interesting to see if these results hold up!

18 thoughts on “Maybe the brain communicates via electrical fields after all

  1. Very interesting, especially if it can be found in vivo. What bothers me, though, is the use of the word “communication”. I didn’t see any explanation of what they think might have been communicated. One thing physically affecting some other thing doesn’t automatically count as communication.

    I’ll wait for another shoe before spending too much thought time on this.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. One of the reasons I’ve always been skeptical of this kind of thing is how much it would make cognition vulnerable to random electromagnetic radiation from the environment. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t nuanced effects.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Sure, and a lot of other forms of neurostimulation, but I think it’s a matter of intensity. TMS is a pretty high current right near the skull. I think for the levels ephaptic coupling would be working at, holding a cell phone or small radio near your head, or being in an electrical storm, would disrupt your thoughts.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. I think the idea of diffuse chemical signalling is well accepted. It’s the idea of neurons transmitting wirelessly to each other that, up to now, hasn’t been established. (Strictly speaking, it still hasn’t been established except in culture dish.)


    1. Abstract
      In three different experiments pairs of unrelated people sitting in two different rooms were exposed simultaneously to different rates of circumcerebral rotations of weak, complex magnetic fields in order to produce “dynamic similarity”. Quantitative electroencephalographic (QEEG) measurements were taken for one member of each pair in one room while the other sat in a closed chamber in another room and intermittently observed 5Hz, 8Hz, 10Hz, or 15Hz flashing lights. Reliable increases in QEEG power within specific frequencies over the right parietal region were observed during the similar-frequency light flashes when the shared temporal-spatial complexity of the circumcerebral rotating fields was based on 100ms, the average duration of normal microstates. The development of this experimental procedure could facilitate rational understanding of this class of “coincidence” phenomena.


  2. There has been a long history of observations and experiments on effects of electrical currents on healing, limb regeneration, and organism development.

    I am most familiar with Robert O. Becker.

    Some more recent work is written about here in a blog you might find interesting.

    One possibility might be that electrical currents in the brain and neural system assist some way in an ongoing brain cell regeneration process. So it might not be directly consciousness related but more biological.


    1. James,
      I don’t have time to evaluate this material, but I advise caution and seeking skeptical scrutiny. There’s a lot of material out there which makes claims people want to hear. I had orthopedic problems a few years ago and felt the powerful allure of this kind of material. But if it’s not coming from reputable sources, be very careful with it.

      A piece of advice I saw years ago suggested adding the word “skeptic” to the Google search term for anything long these lines to get fact checking on it. “Science” sometimes works as well, but a lot of people claim to be scientific when they’re not.


Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.