Brain Atlas Reaches New Levels of Detail

Article excerpt

Byline: Meeri Kim The Washington Post

A 65-year-old woman's brain was cut into 7,400 slices to create the most detailed three-dimensional atlas of the human brain ever made, bringing researchers one step closer to reverse-engineering the brain's convoluted circuitry.

Brain atlases are essential reference tools for researchers and physicians, to determine which areas are "lighting up" during a task or thought process, or during image-guided surgery. The better the atlas resolution, the better doctors can target ever-smaller parts of the brain and their individual function.

The atlas creators, who are from Canada and Germany, have made the ultrahigh-resolution model -- 50 times more detailed than a typical scan -- publicly available in a free online format. The authors also published their work in the journal Science.

The atlas, called BigBrain, offers a common basis for open, worldwide scientific discussion on the brain, said author Karl Zilles of the Heinrich Heine University Desseldorf.

Zilles pointed to a novel treatment for Parkinson's disease called deep brain stimulation, where electrical impulses are sent through electrodes implanted into specific points in the brain. He said BigBrain may open the doors for more accurate localization of electrode placement and thus render treatment more effective.

After staining and digitizing the thousands of plastic-wrap-like slices, the nearly cellular resolution map revealed the network of layers, fibers and microcircuits of the woman's brain. …