Brain Is Not Like a Bowl of Spaghetti

A couple of years ago, John Farrier told us about a project to map the brain's neural connections (scientists call this connectomes). In this week's issue of Science, researchers published their findings that the brain actually has a simple, grid-like structure:

It was previously thought the inside of the brain resembled the assembly of a bowl of spaghetti noodles. Researchers and scientists, funded by the National Science Foundation, have now discovered that a more uniformed grid-like pattern makes up the connections of the brain.

Scientists [... used] magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to map the three-dimensional, scaffold fiber architecture of the brain. This technology, used for the first time in this manner, determined that the pathways of the brain pass through tissue that resembles a grid-like structure.

"By looking at how the pathways fit in the brain, we anticipated the connectivity to resemble that of a bowl of spaghetti, a very narrow and discreet object," said Van J. Wedeen, associate professor of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging.

"We discovered that the pathways in the top of the brain are all organized like woven sheets with the fibers running in two directions in the sheets and in a third direction perpendicular to the sheets. These sheets all stack together so that the entire connectivity of the brain follows three precisely defined directions."

Link | Van Wedeen explains in neat this video clip

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I started studying neuroscience about 5 years ago as a hobby and have never thought of it any other way. Even the books I read 5 years ago said that the cortex was arranged in columns consisting of six layers, some connections project up a layer, some project down a layer and a few project "side-ways" out of the column and synapse on another structure. This is pretty much the same as "sheets with the fibers running in two directions in the sheets and in a third direction perpendicular to the sheet". Where a "sheet" is a "column".
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