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Google scientists have mapped the brain with unprecedented precision

© image generated by DALL-E AI for Presse-Citron

Published in the journal Science, this study reveals an extremely detailed three-dimensional map of one mm³ of the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain, responsible for complex functions: thinking, perception, memory or decision-making. This provides a unique insight into neurons and their connections as well as the characteristics of this complex area of ​​our vital organ. An exceptional achievement, which opens new perspectives in understanding how the human brain functions. Indeed, the map reveals configurations of neuronal connections never before observed and will allow to refine our understanding of brain functioning.

A technical and scientific feat

The fragment of brain tissue studied comes from the cortex of a woman 45 year old with epilepsy, taken during an operation. This region of the brain, essential for learning, problem solving and processing sensory signals, has been carefully preserved and impregnated with heavy metals to facilitate its observation under a microscope.

Once collected, the tissue was cut into approximately 5 000 slices of extreme fineness, with a thickness of only 34 nanometers, which is the equivalent of the size of a small virus. In comparison, the diameter of the H5N1 virus is 80 to 120 nanometers. These ultrathin slices were then examined from all angles under an electron microscope. This allowed the researchers, led by Viren Jain, (neuroscientist at Google) and Jeff Lichtman (Professor of cellular and molecular biology) from Harvard University, to reconstruct the volume of the fragment in three dimensions. This, thanks to the use of artificial intelligence models.

This technique, called focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM), provides high precision in imaging brain tissue and allows scientists to observe neurons and their connections with a very high level of detail.

The choice of cerebral cortex of an epileptic patient is not the result of chance. Indeed, this region of the brain is particularly involved in the generation of epileptic seizures, and the study of its structures could provide valuable insight into the underlying mechanisms. to this disease.

Google scientists have mapped the brain with unprecedented precision

Screenshot of a microscope observation of a fragment of the cerebral cortex. We can observe numerous neurons there, whose color is determined by their size. © Google

Unpublished neuronal observations

The careful analysis of the three-dimensional model by the Harvard and Google teams revealed neural configurations that were atypical to say the least. Indeed, certain neurons established a staggering number of connections, up to 50 connections with other nerve cells, which is well beyond the norm usually observed.

An observation accompanied by its share of discoveries, also quite fascinating. The researchers observed neurons whose dendrites (extensions which allow cells to communicate with each other) formed complex nodes, tangled structures of great entanglement. This possibly suggests the existence of more sophisticated communication and information processing mechanisms than previously known previously. A discovery which could lead us to revise our current models of neural networks, based on more simplified observations.

Another interesting observation: pairs of neurons have been identified, presenting almost perfect symmetry, like two mirrors facing each other. Generally, neurons are unique in their structure and function; the discovery of pairs of neurons with near-perfect symmetry thus challenges our current understanding of neuronal variability.

Implications for neuroscience

As Hongkui Zeng, director of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, points out, this mapping is a unique opportunity for the scientific community. This will then be able to explore the micro-circuitry of the human cortex much more easily than before. Yongsoo Kim of Pennsylvania State University was also full of praise for the achievement, saying it “ provides unique details that could reveal new rules of neuronal connections and help decipher the inner workings of the human brain “.

This research will eventually make it possible to progress in the treatment and prevention of certain psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Researchers around the world must certainly be eager to exploit this veritable mine of information. This incredible project proves one thing to us: that one of our most important organs is certainly the one we know the least about.

  • Scientists from Harvard and Google have developed a map of the brain of & #8217;extreme precision using focused ion beam scanning microscopes and AI.
  • This mapping revealed details of the cerebral cortex that previously remained unknown.
  • These new observations could help to better understand the functioning of the brain, and therefore potentially help in prevention and the treatment of certain psychiatric and neurodegenerative conditions.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116