In what could be considered as an important landmark discovery for neurology, scientists have unveiled the completed 3D diagram of a mouse brain's wiring. Experts say that the model could be used to help medical professionals gain a deeper understanding of the human brain.
Scientists have been trying to map out a wiring diagram for a while now but the new 3D diagram is considered as the first of its kind. The completed diagram represents the first time that a mammal brain's wiring has been mapped out with such extraordinary precision and detail. The researchers published their findings in the online journal Nature.
"Understanding how the brain is wired is among the most crucial steps to understanding how the brain encodes information," said Allen Institute for Brain Science senior director of research science Hongkui Zeng. "The Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas is a standardized, quantitative, and comprehensive resource that will stimulate exciting investigations around the entire neuroscience community, and from which we have already gleaned unprecedented details into how structures are connected inside the brain."
The researchers' findings came almost exactly one year after the Obama administration unveiled its "Brain Initiative," a program that was launched to help make progress in understanding the inner workings of the human brain. The Obama administration pledged $100 million for the program and the latest 3D wiring diagram is one of the products of the initiative.
"The Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas provides an initial road-map of the brain, at the level of interstate highways and the major cities that they link," said California Institute of Technology professor of biology David Anderson. "Smaller road networks and their intersections with the interstates will be the next step, followed by maps of local streets in different municipalities. This information will provide a framework for what we ultimately want to understand: 'traffic patterns' of information flow in the brain during various activities such as decision-making, mapping of the physical environment, learning and remembering, and other cognitive or emotional processes."
The 3D map is referred to as the mouse connectome and it showcases the sinuous connections between neurons in the mouse's brain. The diagram is also a visual representation of the circuits that comprise the brain. A mammalian brain is composed of millions or even billions of neurons that connect to each other via axons. Neurons are referred to as grey matter while axons are referred to as white matter. The mechanisms of interaction between neurons are responsible for every single brain function including memory storage, intelligence and behavior.
"Who you are - all your thoughts and actions your entire life-is based on connections between neurons," said Salk Institute neurobiology professor Ed Callaway. "So if we want to understand any of these processes or how they go wrong in disease, we have to understand how those circuits function. Without an atlas, we couldn't hope to gain that understanding."