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BigBrain: Scientists Construct 3D Road-Map of the Human Brain

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A groundbreaking development has ushered in a three-dimensional (3-D) digital reproduction of a fully-realized human brain.

Naming it the BigBrain, it now allows the anatomy of the brain to be seen to the tiniest detail(s) using a resolution of 20 mircrons which equate to the size of one strand of hair, for the very first time. The new tool is available within the scientific community as it aims to further advance the field of neuroscience.

Researchers from Germany and Canada worked together to produce an impressively stunning high-resolution brain mockup, featured in the issue of the journal Science.

bigbrain model"The authors pushed the limits of current technology. Such spatial resolution exceeds that of presently available reference brains by a factor of 50 in each of the three spatial dimensions,” said Science's senior editor Peter Stern.

The refined modern image processing methods demonstrates an unparalleled look at the very fine details of the human brain's microstructure, or cellular level. The anatomical tool will allow for three-dimensional cytoarchitectonic mapping and navigation of the human brain and serve as a diagram for small cellular circuit data, or single layers or sublayers of the cerebral cortex, noted the researchers.

Until now, reference brain models could not delve deeper than the macroscopic, or visible, components of the brain. But with the BigBrain, provides a richer resolution than a standard 1 mm resolution from MRI images.

“The project has been a tour-de-force to assemble images of over 7,400 individual histological sections, each with its own distortions, rips and tears, into a coherent 3-D volume. This dataset allows for the first time a 3-D exploration of human cytoarchitectural anatomy,” said professor at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and senior author Dr. Alan Evans.

The researchers used a 65-year old woman’s brain to cut and map out the anatomical region of the brain from 7,400 pieces. All 7,400 pieces were placed on slides, stained to identify cell structures, and then digitized with a high-resolution flatbed scanner so researchers could replicate the 3-D model. It took around 1,000 hours of collecting data.

“The new reference brain, which is part of the European Human Brain Project, serves as a powerful tool to facilitate neuroscience research and redefines traditional maps from the beginning of the 20th century," stated Director of the Cecile and Oskar Vogt Institute for Brain Research at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany and lead author, Dr. Katrin Amunts.

Researchers expect the model to be in high demand as it can be used to develop new and valuable tools for visualization, data management, and analysis.

"We plan to repeat this process in a sample of brains so that we can quantify cytoarchitectural variability," said Evans.

"We will also integrate this dataset with high-resolution maps of white matter connectivity in post-mortem brains. This will allow us to explore the relationship between cortical microanatomy and fiber connectivity," added Amunts.

The researchers believe the model will provide deeper insights into the neurobiological basis of cognition, language, emotions and other brain-related functions.

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