Deceptively Simple Brain Organization Revealed
Instead of nerve fibers travelling willy-nilly through the brain like spaghetti, as some imaging has suggested, stunning new visuals reveal two-dimensional sheets of parallel fibers crisscrossing other sheets at right angles in a gridlike structure that folds and contorts with the convolutions of the brain. This same pattern appeared in the brains of humans, rhesus monkeys, owl monkeys, marmosets and galagos, researchers reported March 29 in the journal Science. “The upshot is the fibers of the brain form a 3-D grid and are organized in this exceptionally simple way,” study leader Van Wedeen, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, told LiveScience. “This motif of crossing in three axes is the basic motif of brain tissue.” The finding makes sense, Wedeen said, given that the brain has had to rewire both evolutionarily (to form the specialized brains humans boast today) and during its lifetime (as it grows and learns, for example). If the organization of communication were chaotic, that wouldn’t work. Understanding the structure of a typical brain would ultimately help scientists comprehend what happens when brain development goes wrong, as in Alzheimer’s or mental illness.
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