What Are Perkinje Neurons?

Perkinje Neurons: What are those funny tree things on your logo?

512px-PurkinjeCell

The image in the Theories of Mind logo is a drawing of a kind of neuron called Perkinje cells made by  Santiago Ramon y Cajal, a scientist working in Spain around the turn of the last century, who is sometimes called the father of modern neuroscience.

His investigations contributed to some of the earliest understanding of neuron cells as the processing units of the brain. The cells in the drawing used in the logo are a kind of neuron called a Perkinje cell which are found in the cerebellum (or hind brain), and are involved in motor movement coordination. They are some of the largest neurons in the brain, and can have hundreds of dendritic spines connecting to (or rather, almost connecting to) other neurons.

Perkinje cells are interesting because they are one of the areas of the brain that have been found to show variation in the brains of autistic subjects. In neurotypical brains, each Perkinje cell is enervated (fed into) by a single afferent or rising fiber bringing information to the cell–information which is then turned into motor responses. In autistic brains, Perkinje cells are often enervated by more than one afferent fiber; this is believed to result in overly intense input and possibly conflicting messages for motor response. This overload of messages is believed to contribute to the motor differences which are a part of the sensory overload experienced by many people on the spectrum.