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Old 06-13-2007, 10:08 PM #1
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Default Makes me wonder

A Shocking Idea: Nerves Might Run on Sound, Not Electricity

Brandon Keim 06.11.07 | 2:00 AM

Most people know that nerves work by passing electrical currents from cell to cell. But you might be surprised to learn that no one knows exactly how anesthetics stop nerves from carrying pain signals.

That's why two scientists believe that we really donít know how nerves work after all.

According to their controversial theory, electricity is just a side effect of how nerves really operate: by conducting high-density waves of pressure that resemble sound reverberating through a pipe.

"Nerves are supposed to work like a series of electrical transistors," said Andrew Jackson, a physicist at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. "This picture is at best flawed."

If correct, Jackson and Thomas Heimburg, a Niels Bohr biophysicist and co-author of a recent paper describing their theory, would turn a long-held (and Nobel Prize-winning) theory on its head.

Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1963 for describing the electric transmission of impulses along nerves -- a now widely accepted theory known as the Hodgkin-Huxley model.

But Jackson and Heimburg say that the inability to explain how anesthesia works, combined with other counterintuitive aspects of the theory, mean that nerves don't rely on electricity to carry messages.

For example, the Hodgkin-Huxley model still hasn't accounted for observations made a century ago by scientists Hans Meyer and Charles Overton. They demonstrated that the strength of an anesthetic could be predicted by its solubility in olive oil rather than its chemical structure. The more soluble the anesthetic, the stronger it was.

Since olive oil is similar to the lipid molecules that make up nerve cells, Jackson and Heimburg started questioning the generally accepted belief that anesthetics block electrical pulses by fitting themselves into pain receptors on cells. That seems next to impossible, they said, because anesthetic molecules come in many shapes and sizes, and it's difficult to imagine that they all happen to physically fit into all receptors.

"That is about as likely as tossing a coin 1,000 times and having it come down heads every time," Jackson said.

Their theory, published in the Biophysical Journal, explains how nerves and anesthetics work as follows: Nerves are made of lipids that are liquid at body temperature. A yet-to-be-defined mechanism creates high-pressure, semisolid waves that move through the cells, delivering messages.

Anesthetics, they suggest, lower the temperature at which lipids become solid, making it difficult for the waves to form, thereby preventing nerves from sending pain signals. They also suggest that as the waves travel, they change the shape of the cell membrane, producing the electrical pulse that scientists currently mistake for the primary function of nerve cells.

The theory has not been well received. Few are convinced that the inexplicability of anesthetics is reason to dismiss the Hodgkin-Huxley model. One molecular biologist and ion channel expert even refused to comment on record about the theory because he found it too preposterous.

"The fact that we don't know how anesthetics work make it a nice target for anybody with a new hypothesis," said Roderic Eckenhoff, a University of Pennsylvania molecular pharmacologist. "But the Hodgkin-Huxley model has been pretty well vetted."

The mystery of anesthetics, however, is not the only inconsistency that Jackson and Heimburg point out.

Another example is the fact that as electricity travels through the nerve, heat is released and then reabsorbed. This, said Jackson, contradicts the known behavior of electrical currents through a resistor.

"The heat generated by such a process is dissipated and not reabsorbed," he said.

Scientists say that until Jackson and Heimburg can provide empirical data to support their theory, it will remain a fringe idea.

"I appreciate the place for theory in advancing science, but the weight of evidence is soundly on the side of electricity," said Eckenhoff. "When they provide some experimental evidence consistent with their theory, that'd be great."

Jackson and Heimburg say that's exactly what they're hoping will follow the publication of their theory. "We hope that people will investigate the possibility," Jackson said.

If it turns out they're right, he said, "We might be able to help design cures for neurological problems and design better anesthetics."

Meanwhile, the duo admit they very well might be wrong, but they believe their theory is worth testing.

"We might be wrong," Jackson said, "but we're not crazy."
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Old 06-13-2007, 10:41 PM #2
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Default Very interesting.

My home stitched understanding of this newest theory has made me wonder if I have now found the explanation for my need for silence.

I love music, but it makes me short of breath and very tired. Even my most favorite music becomes a din after a while. I find it very hard to concentrate in noisy surroundings and I feel stiffness and mounting desperation setting in when I'm in places with constant or repetitive sounds.

So maybe I need silence because my nerves are going deaf............
Now they need to find out why nerves go deaf.
(I'm trying hard not to mention hearing aid, but can't resist). Just disregard that, please, because I am not joking. It really makes sense that I need silence to move and to think, because my body's communication system is not working properly.

birte

Or maybe the communication of my nerves makes so much noise that additional noise creates chaos. On second thought I think this makes even more sense than deafness.

Last edited by BEMM; 06-14-2007 at 05:33 AM. Reason: New thought.
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Old 06-15-2007, 03:23 AM #3
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Default Sounds very logical

Thanks, Thelma! I would have never thought of it myself, but now the sound theory seems much more logical than the electric one.
Noise is one of the things that can trigger my most murderous instincts now. Loud, inconsiderate people just don't know how close they are to being clobbered! My old convivial self is turning into a crabby oddball, because I refuse to go to noisy restaurants, to those Cineplex all-round extreme noise movie theaters, and like Birte, I prefer absolute quiet.

The only loud sounds I still enjoy is playing the music I like while driving. I sing along as loud as I can to keep my vocal chords in shape and do some decent breathing.

And now that I think of it...maybe the DBS surgery of the future should be totally revamped and instead of electrodes we should consider getting transistor radios installed!!
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