Researchers have revealed a new brain map that delineated 180 areas per hemisphere. Each area was separated by cortical architecture, function, connectivity, and topography. This research has detailed about 100 previously unknown regions, according to the New York Times.
The data was gathered using multi-modal magnetic resonance imaging from the Human Connectome Project. Although the answers won’t be automatic or easy, this brain map is a huge step towards progress in neuroscience.
Researchers can use it to study how the brain changes in diseases like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. The principal investigator Dr. David C. Van Essen hopes to study the development of young brains and how brains change in diseases like Alzheimer’s, he told the New York Times.
In the 1860s, Pierre Paul Broca found an area of the brain that was devoted to language, called Broca’s area. He examined the brains of two patients who had trouble speaking. They had damage to the same area of the brain.
In the late 1800s, German researchers, including German neurologist Korbinian Brodmann, indicated other regions of the brain’s outer layer of neural tissue. In 1907, a researcher published a list of 52 distinct brain regions. This has been the standard, Dr. Matthew F. Glasser, lead author, told the New York Times.
The current research started three years ago at Washington University in St. Louis when researchers set out to gather information from 1200 volunteers with strong, cutting-edge scanners. They trained a computer with 210 brains to recognize different areas of the brain and how they are connected. When the computer generated distinct areas, they tested it on 210 other brains.
The brain map required little information, so it can be done in just over an hour of scanning. However, maps done in different ways can produce different results, which means that some people may not have complete faith in each map. The map in this research showed 83 familiar areas of the brain, such as Broca’s area. There were 97 new areas of the brain that were discovered or forgotten.
What I mean by forgotten is that in the 1950s scientists discovered an area of the brain with little myelin compared with other areas. The research was lost in the literature. With the current research, they discovered that area again, which becomes distinctly active while listening to stories. So, it is part of the complex language network of the brain.
The researchers also discovered the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is comprised of many smaller areas. This part of the brain is active in thought, like decision-making and deception. It is possible that each smaller region is responsible for one of these smaller tasks.
The New York Times article ended with Dr. Van Essen looking forward. “We shouldn’t expect miracles or easy answers,” he said. “But we’re positioned to accelerate progress.”
Any research into brain mapping must be done in the light of the fact that the human brain does not have dedicated areas to do most modern information processing, including reading, typing and complex speech and memory tasks. The human brain is built on an evolutionary framework that is a million years old. Only 1/50th of that time has there been a written language. Only for the last 100 years have the majority of people been able to read. Only for the last 20 have average people been typing on computers. Neural networks are far more similar from part to part than traditional brain mappers ever thought.
We continue to believe that a given thought, memory or process can be done in places far distant to where researchers have traditionally believed they are done. This is the nature of neural plasticity and the greatest hope for a lifetime of recovery from even very severe brain damage.
Attorney Gordon Johnson