Slashdot.org linked to a February 2011 Nature Neuroscience article that suggests that electric fields in the brain influences neuron firing. There is some earlier evidence that focused and powerful electrical fields can produce effects in an individual’s brain. However, Anastassiou et. al. in “Ephaptic Coupling of Cortical Neurons” demonstrate that field effects produced by neurons in the brain cause activity between neurons that are not directly connected. Like the effect of chemical/gases in the brain can influence a wide area of neural tissue, this coupling effect adds an additional level and complexity to the way neurons interact in the brain. I agree with the original slashdot commenter that this may lead the way to new research regarding the effects of our electrical gadgetry on the brain. The electrical fields that surround us include cell phones, computers, heating and cooling systems, cars, etc. Any or all of these when we are in close proximity to them could produce effects in the brain based on these observations that neurons in the brain are attuned to these effects produced by neurons. It is fascinating stuff that deserves additional study.
Anastassiou, Costas A; Perin, Rodrigo; Markram, Henry; and Koch, Christof. “Ephaptic coupling of cortical neurons.” Nature Neuroscience 14.2 (Feb2011): 217-223.