St. Louis, Aug. 31, 1999 -- Researchers have developed a way to visualize nerve fiber bundles that transmit information between different areas of the living human brain. Their study provides new information on the orderly pattern of these fiber connections and may one day lead to improvements in brain surgery, diagnosis of brain ailments, and understanding of neurological diseases.
"This technique will enable scientists to make more detailed maps of connections between different parts of the brain. In particular, this technique can provide diagrams of how the brain is wired and which parts of the brain talk to which other parts," says Thomas E. Conturo, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "By knowing that, scientists may be able to identify abnormal connections between brain areas that might be important in diseases such as schizophrenia."
The study, published in today's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also may provide a way to tell if behavioral differences among people partly result from differences in the way their brains are wired. Conturo, the lead author, also notes that wiring diagrams could be used to study how the recently recognized process of "re-wiring" occurs in brain ailments such as stroke.
Scientists' understanding of the wiring of the human brain has come primarily from studies of animals, which lack many of the higher brain functions of humans. A nine-member team of physicists, computer scientists, neuroscientists, radiologists and anatomists spent three years developing the variation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and analyzing data to provide detailed maps of brain wiring in living humans.
The MRI fiber tracking method monitors the random movements of water
inside and around nerve cells. The cells have long fiber extensions that
transmit electrical impulses to communicate with other nerv
Contact: Barbra Rodriguez
Washington University School of Medicine