Scientists hope new technology will lead to improved treatment for brain disorders.
From the time the first map of the human brain was developed in 1909 by a German neurologist, Korbinian Brodmann, scientist have added 40 new distinct brain regions to his original list of 43 contained in the cerebral cortex of the brain. This is the area in which the brain processes attention, perception, language and abstract thinking.
Now, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, researchers from Washington University’s school of medicine used the MRI data from the Human Connectome Project to more than double that number to an amazing 180. Brodmann made his initial map by slicing the brain into ultra-thin layers and examining the mass under a microscope.
Brain areas are defined in a number of ways, including activity and structure. The thickness of the cortex identifies certain areas, while others are denoted by the myelin insulation on the neuronal cables or by the connectivity with other parts of the brain. Sections of the brain associated with performing everyday tasks such as talking and listening also are identifiable as brain regions.
The difficulty in mapping the regions across the population is that each brain is different from the previous one examined, so the researchers used the new research technique with a computer to help them correlate the regions. Once the logic was established, the program was tested on 210 subjects, successfully identifying the regions 96.6 percent of the time.
The program was so successful, it identified that a large area near the front of the brain is actually made up of a dozen small regions instead of being one region, as was previously thought. The program even found that an area involved with language skills was split into two sections in 12 of the subjects tested.
Calling the new map Version 1.0, Matthew F. Glasser, a neuroscientist at the school and the lead author on the research team said the team published an additional 200 pages of material online so that other researchers could examine and add to their project. He added the team hoped the map would evolve as the science progresses.
Scientists hope the new data can lead to comparisons between healthy brains and those of patients with such disorders as autism, schizophrenia, dementia and epilepsy, that could lead to improved treatments.