Scientists Develop New Technique To Easily Navigate Brain’s Landmarks

The brain, with its complicated folds and wiring, has consistently been the most troublesome part of the human body to navigate. However, researchers have now come up with a technique that allows the brain to be quickly navigated by “landmarks” in the brain itself. This feat is most impressive because formerly this technique was only available at autopsy. This technique in conjunction with the Human Connectome Project, a project who’s goal it is to map the intricate wiring of the brain, will lead to better understanding of our body and how it is controlled through the brain.

Like explorers mapping a new planet, scientists probing the brain need every type of landmark they can get. Each mountain, river or forest helps scientists find their way through the intricacies of the human brain.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed a new technique that provides rapid access to brain landmarks formerly only available at autopsy. Better brain maps will result, speeding efforts to understand how the healthy brain works and potentially aiding in future diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders, the researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience Aug. 10.

The technique makes it possible for scientists to map myelination, or the degree to which branches of brain cells are covered by a white sheath known as myelin in order to speed up long-distance signaling. It was developed in part through the Human Connectome Project, a $30 million, five-year effort to map the brain’s wiring. That project is headed by Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Minnesota.

“The brain is among the most complex structures known, with approximately 90 billion neurons transmitting information across 150 trillion connections,” says David Van Essen, PhD, Edison Professor and head of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University. “New perspectives are very helpful for understanding this complexity, and myelin maps will give us important insights into where certain parts of the brain end and others begin.”

Easy access to detailed maps of myelination in humans and animals also will aid efforts to understand how the brain evolved and how it works, according to Van Essen.

Neuroscientists have known for more than a century that myelination levels differ throughout the cerebral cortex, the gray outer layer of the brain where most higher mental functions take place. Until now, though, the only way they could map these differences in detail was to remove the brain after death, slice it and stain it for myelin.

Washington University graduate student Matthew Glasser developed the new technique, which combines data from two types of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans that have been available for years.

“These are standard ways of imaging brain anatomy that scientists and clinicians have used for a long time,” Glasser says. “After developing the new technique, we applied it in a detailed analysis of archived brain scans from healthy adults.”

As in prior studies, Glasser’s results show highest myelination levels in areas involved with early processing of information from the eyes and other sensory organs and control of movement. Many brain cells are packed into these regions, but the connections among the cells are less complex. Scientists suspect that these brain regions rely heavily on what computer scientists call parallel processing: Instead of every cell in the region working together on a single complex problem, multiple separate teams of cells work simultaneously on different parts of the problem.

Areas with less myelin include brain regions linked to speech, reasoning and use of tools. These regions have brain cells that are packed less densely, because individual cells are larger and have more complex connections with neighboring cells.

“It’s been widely hypothesized that each chunk of the cerebral cortex is made up of very uniform information-processing machinery,” Van Essen says. “But we’re now adding to a picture of striking regional differences that are important for understanding how the brain works.”

According to Van Essen, the technique will make it possible for the Connectome project to rapidly map myelination in many different research participants. Data on many subjects, acquired through many different analytical techniques including myelination mapping, will help the resulting maps cover the range of anatomic variation present in humans.

“Our colleagues are clamoring to make use of this approach because it’s so helpful for figuring out where you are in the cortex, and the data are either already there or can be obtained in less than 10 minutes of MRI scanning,” Glasser says.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Read more http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110809184153.htm

Share

Posted: August 15th, 2011 under Uncategorized.

RSS Medical Imaging News

  • Novel ultrasound technology to screen for heart conditions developed by engineers October 29, 2014
    Engineers have determined, for the first time, the impact of a ring-shaped vortex on transporting blood flow in normal and abnormal ventricles within the human heart, and have developed a novel ultrasound technology that makes screening cheaper and much easier, making it possible to reach a large number of people and even infants.
  • Brain abnormalities found in chronic fatigue patients October 29, 2014
    An imaging study has found distinct differences between the brains of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and those of healthy people.
  • New technology shows promise for delivery of therapeutics to the brain October 28, 2014
    Researchers have created “a tool for blood-barrier-brain disruption that uses bursts of sub-microsecond bipolar pulses to enhance the transfer of large molecules to the brain.” According to the authors, the current medical use of chemotherapy to treat brain cancer can be inefficient because of the blood-brain-barrier that impedes the delivery of drugs out of […]
  • Tomosynthesis improves cancer detection in women with dense breast tissue October 28, 2014
    As of October 2014, 19 states have enacted laws requiring women to be directly informed if they have dense breasts and would benefit from supplemental screening. However, the recommended type of supplemental screening for women with dense breasts remains unclear. With 15 additional states considering similar laws and federal legislation introduced, physician […]
  • Preventative action prior to brain surgery: Ultra-high-field MRI reveals language centers in brain in much more detail October 28, 2014
    It is now possible, for the first time, to demonstrate that the areas of the brain that are important for understanding language can be pinpointed much more accurately using ultra-high-field MRI (7 Tesla) than with conventional clinical MRI scanners. This research helps to protect these areas more effectively during brain surgery and avoid accidentally damag […]
  • Ultrasound guides tongue to pronounce 'R' sounds October 27, 2014
    Using ultrasound technology to visualize the tongue’s shape and movement can help children with difficulty pronouncing “r” sounds, according to a small study. The ultrasound intervention was effective when individuals were allowed to make different shapes with their tongue in order to produce the "r" sound, rather than being instructed to make a sp […]
  • Brain development in utero observed by researchers October 27, 2014
    New investigation methods using functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRT) offer insights into fetal brain development. These "in vivo" observations will uncover different stages of the brain's development. A research group has observed that parts of the brain that are later responsible for sight are already active at this stage.
  • New hope for potential prostate cancer patients October 25, 2014
    It has been more than 30 years since the last major advancement in prostate cancer screening technology, and the latest advancement is now available in the United States. It is estimated that 2014 will see more than 240,000 new cases of prostate cancer, and more than 29,000 deaths from the disease.
  • Breast cancer tumor response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy measured October 23, 2014
    It may be possible to use Diffuse Optical Spectroscopic Tomographic imaging (DOST) to predict which patients will best respond to chemotherapy used to shrink breast cancer tumors before surgery, a study shows.
  • New window of opportunity to prevent cardiovascular, diseases October 23, 2014
    Future prevention and treatment strategies for vascular diseases may lie in the evaluation of early brain imaging tests long before heart attacks or strokes occur, according to a systematic review conducted by a team of cardiologists, neuroscientists, and psychiatrists.

News Items

Links