Brain's "Core" Revealed by First Hi-Res Wiring Map

Victoria Jaggard
National Geographic News
July 1, 2008

The first high-resolution map of wiring in the cerebral cortex has revealed a structural "core" that seems to play a vital role in communication within and between the two halves of the human brain.

This core is a densely interconnected region of nerve cells and fibers that sits deep inside the cortex almost at the center of the brain.

Scans show that this same region lights up with activity while the brain is at rest, indicating that the core might play a role in coordinating the large-scale flow of information.

The research is an early step in the emerging field of connectomics, which aims to create detailed computer models of the brain's wiring similar to the whole genome maps created by DNA researchers.

"The brain is a network, but in my personal opinion that perspective has not been given the attention it deserves in neuroscience," said study co-author Olaf Sporns of Indiana University.

"Most researchers are used to thinking about the brain as a set of isolated modules, but each and every part of it depends on other parts that are interconnecting."

Matching nerve pathways to functions could help scientists understand not only how the brain works as a whole, but also whether there are ways to treat certain neurological disorders.

"Major conditions such as Alzheimer's and autism have been associated with fiber disturbances in the brain," Sporns said.

Creating a computer simulation of the brain's networks would allow researchers to virtually damage certain sections and watch the effects on the brain as a whole, he noted.

"Is there a way that we can somehow coax it back and restore functionality?"

Network Hubs

The cerebral cortex is the outermost section of the brain and is responsible for higher thought and consciousness.

Continued on Next Page >>




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