Researchers map another 180 areas of the human brain

Unlike previous studies of cortex organization which depended on one mode of imaging, the new software mapped the areas with an nearly 97 percent detection rate, using a number of MRI imaging measures, such as cortex thickness, cortex myelin content and functional MRI. Using a variety of brain-mapping techniques and data from 210 healthy young adults, researchers have devised a new detailed atlas of the human cortex, the part of the brain involved in attention, language and perception. In this new map, the cortex is divided into 180 different areas known as parcels, which includes 97 undiscovered regions, that can unlock the secrets of how the conscious mind works. One surprise was the rediscovery of a language-associated region called area 55b, which was first identified in 1956. The algorithm correctly identified more than 96 percent of the same cortical areas in the new group, and was able to identify how these maps differed between individuals, the researchers reported.

Most previous maps of the human brain have been created by looking at only one aspect of the tissues, such as how the cells look under a microscope, or how active areas become when a person performs a certain task. A professor at Yale calls the new map-which Wired says "sort of looks like a page from an adult coloring book"-a "huge leap in neuroscience".

There is still so much we don't know about the brain and how it works. "We hope the map can evolve as the science progresses".

The addition of the 97 new cortical areas shows that "the human cortex is even more complex than we had originally thought", said Ramesh Raghupathi, a neuroscientist at Drexel University's College of Medicine in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the new study.

"People tended to ignore it, and it was lost in the literature", says David C. Van Essen, the principal investigator of the project.

The results from the study are important because they could revolutionise the way neuroscientists work.

A research project funded by the National Institutes of Health has identified 180 new distinct areas of the human brain, specifically of the brain's outer mantle. For the study, the participants' brains were recorded while they laid in the scanner, while they did various math problems and memory tests, and while they listened to stories. In other words, thanks to the new schematic, increasingly sophisticated technologies should shortly be able to diagnose brain disorders.

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David Van Essen, PhD, led a team that mapped the human cerebral cortex in painstaking detail. He painstakingly stained brain cells of many kinds to find the anatomical features that set them apart and the rules that governed their layered organization. In time, he said, we'll get better definition, but he would be "very surprised" to see major changes to this new "parcellation" as Van Essen refers to it.

To make an updated map, the researchers combined the amount of insulation around neuronal cables and the measures of thickness of the cortex, using MRI scans of the resting brain and of the brain performing simple tasks such as talking or listening to a story.

The scientists improved on prior maps by aligning the brain to a standard coordinate system using a novel algorithm, and by using the highest-quality MRI information available.

This identification scheme allowed them to come up with no less than 100 new regions in the cerebral cortex.

"We're thinking of this as version 1.0", Glasser told Nature. "We don't have the ability to navigate the cerebral cortex down to the level of individual neurons or even tiny patches". After the collection of data the scientists used a machine learning algorithm, designed specifically by scientists at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, which is able to identify different regions of the brain and finds common coordinates between them.

"Another interesting area is POS2", Glasser said in an interview with Gizmodo.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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