A research effort called the Human Connectome Project is seeking to explore, define, and map the functional connections of the human brain. An update on progress in and upcoming plans for the Human Connectome Project appears in the July issue of Neurosurgery, official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.
Analogous to the Human Genome Project—which mapped the human genetic code—the Human Connectome Project seeks to map "the complete, point-to-point spatial connectivity of neural pathways in the brain," according to Arthur W. Toga, PhD, and colleagues of David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles. They write, "For neuroscientists and the lay public alike, the ability to assess, measure, and explore this wealth of layered information concerning how the brain is wired is a much sought after prize."
'Connectome' Mapping to Understand Brain Functional Networks
The 100 billion neurons of the human nervous system interconnect to form a relatively small number of "functional neural networks" responsible for behavior and thought. However, even after more than a century of research, there is no comprehensive map of the connections of the human brain.
Historically, studies of the human brain function have employed a "modular" view—for example, "region X is responsible for function Y." However, a more appropriate approach is to consider which network of two or more "connected or interacting" regions is involved in a given function. Until recently, it was not possible to view networks in the living brain.
But newer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods sensitive to water diffusion have made it possible to create detailed maps of the underlying white matter connections between different areas of the brain. This opens the way to new approaches to mapping the structural connectivity of the brain, and showing it in ways that correspond to the brain anatomy.