Monday, July 28, 2008

Better Understanding of the Brain

Popular Science details new initiatives that have created, for the first time ever, virtual maps of neural connections in the human brain. The maps—created in two separate studies—used a brain scanning technique called "diffusion imaging," which can be easily done on living, breathing human beings. The method involves following the flow of water molecules along the axons—long fibers of nerve cells—in a subject's brain.

The two teams used basically the same technique to create their maps, one of which is higher resolution than the other, and both found the same clusters of connections in the cerebral cortex, in a region of the brain that uses the most oxygen and glucose, especially when the brain is at rest.

The results of this research will undoubtedly lead to a much greater understanding of the organization and function of the brain, which could lead eventually to better treatments for mental illnesses, paralysis, and brain damage, as well as to such future technologies as mind-machine interfaces.

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