Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Mapping the Core

A Brain post.
From ScienceDaily :
An international team of researchers has created the first complete high-resolution map of how millions of neural fibers in the human cerebral cortex -- the outer layer of the brain responsible for higher level thinking -- connect and communicate. Their groundbreaking work identified a single network core, or hub, that may be key to the workings of both hemispheres of the brain.
The work .. not only provides a comprehensive map of brain connections (the brain "connectome"), but also describes a novel application of a non-invasive technique that can be used by other scientists to continue mapping the trillions of neural connections in the brain at even greater resolution, which is becoming a new field of science termed "connectomics."
Until now, scientists have mostly used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to measure brain activity -- locating which parts of the brain become active during perception or cognition -- but there has been little understanding of the role of the underlying anatomy in generating this activity. What is known of neural fiber connections and pathways has largely been learned from animal studies, and so far, no complete map of brain connections in the human brain exists.

In this new study, a team of neuroimaging researchers led by Hagmann used state-of-the-art diffusion MRI technology, which is a non-invasive scanning technique that estimates fiber connection trajectories based on gradient maps of the diffusion of water molecules through brain tissue. A highly sensitive variant of the method, called diffusion spectrum imaging (DSI), can depict the orientation of multiple fibers that cross a single location. The study applies this technique to the entire human cortex, resulting in maps of millions of neural fibers running throughout this highly furrowed part of the brain.
So not only do we have a new map of the connections, not just the patterns of activity, but we have a new MRI-derived tool for non-invasively probing what is inside our heads.
"This is one of the first steps necessary for building large-scale computational models of the human brain to help us understand processes that are difficult to observe, such as disease states and recovery processes to injuries," said Olaf Sporns, co-author of the study and neuroscientist at Indiana University.
Not only does it promise to be useful in treating brain injury, it will give us even more clues about how we think. Or how we think we think.

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