A new type of human brain cell called the “rosehip” neuron has been discovered by scientists trying to understand what makes our brains different from other animals, according to a report published Tuesday in Nature Neuroscience.
The recently discovered neuron has only been observed in humans this far and could offer researchers insight into how our brains uniquely function, USA Today reported.
“We really don’t understand what makes the human brain special,” said Ed Lein, an investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science who led the study. “Studying the differences at the level of cells and circuits is a good place to start.”
Which is why an international team comprising 34 scientists set out to do just that, according to Forbes magazine.
By examining brain samples of two men who had died and donated their bodies to science, the team were able to identify rosehip neurons, which have not been seen in mice and other well-studied laboratory animals.
The neurons were found in samples of the top layer of the cortex, which is the outermost region of the brain responsible for human consciousness and other functions unique to humans.
What makes the rosehip neuron unique is that it appears to be attached to only one specific part of its cellular partner, meaning that it could be controlling information flow in a specialized manner.
In a press release, Ga�bor Tama�s, a neuroscientist at the University of Szeged in Szeged, Hungary, who was involved in the study, described this by comparing inhibitory neurons to brakes on a car.
The rosehip neurons would let your car stop in very particular spots on your drive, he explained, noting that they would be like brakes that only work at the grocery store, and that not all cars (or animal brains) would have them.
“This particular cell type — or car type — can stop at places other cell types cannot stop,” Tama�s said. “The car or cell types participating in the traffic of a rodent brain cannot stop in these places.”
Thus far, the study has not proven that this brain cell is unique to humans, but the findings of this study suggest that they may very well exist only in humans or primate brains.