(New York Times, June 20)
Researchers in Germany and Canada have produced a new map of the human brain — not the sort that shows every brain cell and its every connection or the kind that shows broad patterns of activity in brain regions, but a work of classic anatomy, done with high technology, that shows a three-dimensional reconstruction of a human brain in unprecedented detail.
The new map, called BigBrain, is 50 times as detailed as previous efforts and will be available to researchers everywhere, said Katrin Amunts of the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Jülich, Germany, the lead author of a report on the project in the current issue of Science.
BigBrain depicts a specific human brain, that of a 65-year-old woman. It was preserved in paraffin after her death, sliced into 7,400 sections and photographed at a microscopic level just above that of viewing individual cells. Its portrait will serve, the researchers said, as an anatomical framework that other researchers can use as a reference, whether they are investigating large patterns of brain function or small details.
This kind of anatomical map is not what neuroscientists are pursuing in the new brain initiative from the Obama administration, nor does it show the expression of genes or connectivity that other projects are pursuing. But David Van Essen, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis and a principal investigator in the Human Connectome Project, which uses M.R.I. images of active human brains, described the work as a “technological tour de force,” adding that the three-dimensional reconstruction could help distinguish the many small areas of the brain with greater accuracy.