“Think of each brain area as having a unique fingerprint”
Research published Wednesday in the journal Nature unveiled a stunning new map of the brain containing 180 areas, 97 of which were previously unknown. With data gathered by the latest technological advancements used in the Human Connectome Project by the National Institutes of Health, the team of researchers focused on the entirety of the brain versus one part of the cerebral cortex, including all four biological properties — architecture, connectively, function, topography — to develop the colorful map.
Made possible by the 210 healthy, young adults who participated in the Human Connectome Project, brain images allowed the team to pay close attention to finer details of the human brain than in previous maps.
The 97 newly identified territories of the brain have their own unique architecture, as well as connectivity and associated activity with other areas of the brain. According to senior author of the study David Van Essen as told to CNN, “Most of the new areas are in regions we associate with higher cognitive function.”
A number of the previously unidentified areas are located within the “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,” according to Van Essen, which controls a host of functions including working memory and planning. Matthew Glasser, first author and a doctoral student in neuroscience, told CNN, “Think of each brain area as having a unique fingerprint to it.”
In addition to the map, Glasser detailed the development of a “classifier,” more easily understood as computer programming of sorts, which is able to recognize the unique biological properties of each region and subsequently connect the region with areas of the same “fingerprint.”
According to Glasser and the team’s experiments, the classifier was able to identify up to 97 percent of the areas in new subjects, even those with unusual brain structures.
Though the new map provides a deeper look into the higher cognitive functions of the human brain, Van Essen said, “We have started, but by no means finished, our characterization about what is different about these new areas.” Ultimately, the team of researchers is hopeful the new map and technologies will be used in practical application by neurosurgeons, going so far as to diagnose brain disorders from addiction to autism.