Monday, October 18, 2010

Project to map trillions of brain circuits

        HOWARD HUGHES MEDICAL INSTITUTE - MCT -       Brain cells send chemical messengers, molecules called glutamate, across the tiny gap between neurons.The human brain is among the most complex structures in the universe - and researchers will try to map it in just five years.

A consortium led by scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Minnesota has launched a project, dubbed the Human Connectome, to diagram all major circuits in a healthy human brain.

The effort is the first of its kind and will lay the groundwork for understanding how the human brain functions - and eventually, how it doesn't.

"This will give us a vastly better understanding of brain connectivity that is sorely lacking," said David Van Essen, head of the department of anatomy and neurobiology at Washington University. "This is the first effort to create a wiring diagram of the brain in a comprehensive way."

The task is staggering. The brain consists of 90 billion neurons, connected by 150 trillion synapses - the connections that transmit signals from neuron to neuron. These connections make up the pathways that allow one part of the brain to "talk" to another. The Connectome project will try to map these circuits. The Human Genome Project, by comparison, mapped the 3 billion base-pair sequences that make up human DNA.

"It's daunting," Van Essen concedes. But promising.

... Advances in imaging technology will allow researchers to get a better glimpse of these circuits as they work in a live human brain.

via Project to map trillions of brain circuits - Science/Technology -

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