Friday, April 6, 2012

Study reveals grid-like structure within the brain


COLORFUL CONNECTIONS: An image of a primate’s brain shows the structure of neural pathways.


How do you build a brain? In the March 30 issue of Science a team of investigators reports the discovery of a remarkably simple organizational structure in the brains of humans and other primates.

Using advanced imaging technology, the researchers found that pathways carrying neural signals through the brain are arranged not in a disorganized tangle but in a curved, three-dimensional grid. The diffusion spectrum magnetic resonance image below shows this fabric-like, three-dimensional structure in the brain of a rhesus monkey. The same grid-like pattern – in which neural fibers form sheet-like structures that always cross at right angles – also was seen throughout the white matter of the brains of owl monkeys, marmosets, galagos and in human volunteers. 

“I don’t think anyone suspected the brain would have this sort of pervasive geometric pattern,” says Van Wedeen, MD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at the MGH, who led the study. “Although our findings could be described as a new longitude and latitude for the brain, they’re also leading us to an entirely new understanding of how and why the brain is organized the way it is.” 

Additional co-authors of the Science article are Ruopeng Wang and Guangping Dai, PhD, of the Martinos Center, as well as researchers from Boston University Medical Center, the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, Vanderbilt University and the National Taiwan University College of Medicine. 

Read more articles from the 04/06/12 Hotline issue.

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