First Ever Brain "Atlas" Completed

September 26, 2006

Scientists have made a complete "atlas" of the mouse brain, which they hope will spark a new era of insight into how the brain works and what happens when it breaks down.

The Allen Brain Atlas, launched with a hundred million U.S. dollars from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, provides an online, three-dimensional map showing where each of more than 21,000 genes is activated in the mouse brain.

Members of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, announced the completion of the project this morning.

"It's an extraordinary achievement," said Allan Jones, the Allen Institute's chief scientific officer.

"The atlas provides a comprehensive understanding of the genetic underpinnings of the brain."

"No one has ever done anything like this before," Arthur Toga, a professor of neurology at the University of California at Los Angeles's School of Medicine, told National Geographic News.

"It tells us not just what genes are there, but where they are," added Toga, who is a member of the brain atlas's scientific advisory panel.

Such detailed mapping allows scientists to develop a more integrated understanding of the connection between genes and anatomy, he explains.

"This is an enormously important and innovative accomplishment," Toga said, "and will likely form the foundation for many other investigations into fundamental questions of the brain."

Making a Difference

Microsoft's Allen, a noted philanthropist who helped fund SpaceShipOne, the first privately built craft to reach space, initiated the atlas project because of his longstanding fascination with neuroscience.

"For someone coming up in the commercial side of things, the more you learn about computers, the more you wonder how the brain works … in ways that no computer today can," Allen said.

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