Our brain is an über-processing hub comprising 100 billion neurons, each with around 10,000 connections. Scanning techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging can highlight active areas, but tell us little about how the brain is wired. Scientists working together on the Human Connectome Project are mapping the brain’s wiring system to help identify glitches. Here, a technique called diffusion tensor imaging measures water diffusing in different directions through the brain. In this side-on view, each colour traces the route of one of the brain’s ‘wires’ – white matter tracts consisting of nerve fibre bundles ‘insulated’ with fatty myelin. The more tightly packed the bundles of white matter, the less water can diffuse. This translates into a spectrum of colours when the data are processed and visualised on a map. A colour-coded wiring map of the brain will direct doctors to damaged connections, and help them locate and treat brain disorders.
Written by Caroline Cross
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