A new map of the human brain provides a clearer picture of how different areas of our brain are physically connected and how these connections relate to basic brain function.
The University of Georgia researchers and identified 358 landmarks throughout the brain related to memory, vision, language, arousal regulation and many other fundamental bodily operations. Their findings were published in the April, 2012 issue of Cerebral Cortex.
The landmarks were discovered using diffusion tensor imaging, a sophisticated neuroimaging technique that allows scientists to visualize nerve fiber connections throughout the brain. Unlike many other neuroimaging studies, their map does not focus only on one section of the brain but rather the whole cerebral cortex.
Tianming Liu, assistant professor of computer science in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and his team examined hundreds of healthy young adults to establish the landmarks, which they call ‘dense individualized and common connectivity-based cortical landmarks,’ or DICCCOL.
After extensive testing and comparison, the team determined that these nodes are present in every normal brain, meaning they can be used as a basis of comparison for those with damaged brain tissue or altered brain function.
Now the researchers plan to test their brain map by comparing healthy brains with those of children whose brains were damaged by exposure to cocaine while in the womb.
Prenatal cocaine exposure, or PCE, can cause serious damage to brain networks. Because of this, analysis of the damage provides the team with an excellent opportunity to evaluate the usefulness of their map.
After comparing the PCE brains to those of healthy individuals, they hope to determine the segments of the brain responsible for physical or mental disabilities observed in children exposed to cocaine. Liu said:
The PCE brain is disrupted in a systematic way; the whole brain is wrongly wired. We want to test our map in one of the worst cases, and then we will know if it will work in other cases.
Once the robustness of their map is established, Liu and his team hope that it may prove useful in the evaluation of many other brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or stroke.
With this map, researchers hope to create a next-generation brain atlas that will be an alternative option to the atlas created by German anatomist Korbinian Brodmann more than 100 years ago, which is still commonly used in clinical and research settings.
Bottom line: University of Georgia researchers have developed a new map that provides a clearer picture of how different areas of the brain are physically connected and how these connections relate to basic brain function. The researchers identified 358 landmarks throughout the brain related to memory, vision, language, arousal regulation and many other fundamental bodily operations.