Stochastic Axon Systems of the Brain

Program Period: 
2/1/19 - 1/30/21

Virtually all neural processes in vertebrate brains are physically embedded in a dense matrix of axons that release serotonin, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitters. This ancient system originates in the brainstem and is known as the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS). ARAS controls global brain states and has profound effects on consciousness in humans. Since ARAS axons (fibers) do not form well-defined projections and have extremely meandering trajectories, their current descriptions fall outside the scope of connectomics projects and are based on observed fiber “densities”. This project seeks to reconstruct the fundamental self-organizing process that builds and supports this system in the brain. In a radical departure from current descriptive approaches, this project hypothesizes that the behavior of individual ARAS fibers can be described by a three-dimensional stochastic process, which determines the resultant fiber density, as an emergent phenomenon.

The inception of the current interdisciplinary team and research program was supported by a CNSI New Partnerships Challenge Grant, awarded for the period of February 1, 2018-January 31, 2019.  The team proposes to create a sustained interdisciplinary program by securing long-term funding and developing the logistical essentials for a UCSB-based center, starting with NIH R01 and NSF/CRCNS proposals.