A new map of the brain unveiled

Until today, 83 brain areas had been identified. You can now double this number because we’ve just discovered 97 others! It goes to show that the brain hasn’t finished revealing all of its mysteries. Scientists have taken yet another step toward understanding its complexity. The new map of the brain has just been published in Nature. How did researchers come upon this major neurobiological discovery?

To develop this new brain map, the research team of neurologists, engineers and computer scientists used data from the Human Connectome Project, a huge program in which highly sophisticated scanners recorded the brain activity of 1200 participants. With this partnership, the brain images of 210 young people in good health were recorded and analyzed. Thanks to internally developed software, the researchers were able to identify the areas mapped in spite of individual differences. After comparison, they were able to trace the boundaries of each area according to the thickness of the myelin, which forms a sheath around neuron axons.

In all, no less than 180 areas of the brain were mapped. David Van Essen, the lead author of the study published in Nature, says that “most of the new areas are associated with higher cognitive functions.” For example, the area that was until now "invisible" (the area 55b) is involved in language analysis.

This new map will be very useful for analyzing the development of the human brain in detail and for training future neurosurgeons because it gives us a better understanding of the interaction between brain areas and behavioral variations. The research may also offer hope for reaching a better understanding of dysfunctions caused by neurodegenerative diseases.

Though further experiments are necessary, this new map is likely to change quickly according to future observations. But it’s important to put this discovery into perspective; the researchers compare this scientific leap to the progress achieved between the Middle Ages and the 1950s!
Source: M.F. Glasser et coll., A multi-modal parcellation of human cerebral cortex, in Nature, 20 July 2016.

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