November 5, 2008

Connectomics: Tracing the Wires of the Brain

brain networks — alice @ 12:54 am Print This Post  AddThis Social Bookmark Button

From The Dana FoundationScientists working with rapidly advancing computer technology and electron microscopes hope one day to map the billions of neuronal connections in the brain. The resulting map, or “connectome,” could help us understand memory, intelligence and mental disorders, Dr. Sebastian Seung writes.

Suppose that someone gave you a radio and asked you to figure out how it works. You could try measuring electrical signals inside it, but the measurements might not be sufficient. You might be more successful if you were also given a circuit diagram illustrating all the components of the radio and how they are connected to each other.

Now imagine that your goal is to discover how a brain works. A map of brain connections would be helpful for interpreting measurements of the signals transmitted between neurons. In the human brain, these signals travel in a complex network of 100 billion or so neurons, each of which is connected to 10,000 others.

Such a map of a brain, human or otherwise, does not yet exist. But as technology advances, researchers are setting their sights on the “connectome,” a word coined in a 2005 study by Olaf Sporns and colleagues to describe a complete map of connections in a brain or a piece of a brain.

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