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Exploring the Brain: New Map of the Brain Will Help Neurological, Psychiatric Research

Jul 21, 2016 04:26 AM EDT

A new map of the brain's outer layer shows more details on nearly 100 unexplored areas, a new study said.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis laid out the landscape of the cerebral cortex - the brain's outermost layer - in a detailed new map.

The new map aims to help researchers in studying brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, dementia and epilepsy, and help scientists understand the differences in the brains of people with these conditions compared with people who are healthy.

"The brain is not like a computer that can support any operating system and run any software," David Van Essen, professor of neuroscience and senior author of the study, said in a news release.

"Instead, the software -- how the brain works -- is intimately correlated with the brain's structure -- its hardware, so to speak. If you want to find out what the brain can do, you have to understand how it is organized and wired."

In the study, which was published in the journal Nature, researchers divided both the left and right cerebral hemispheres into 180 areas based on physical differences, functional distinctions and differences in the connections of the areas.

According to Matthew Glasser, neuroscience researcher and lead study author, the areas identified in the new map include 83 previously identified areas and 97 new areas.

Ramesh Raghupathi, neuroscientist at Drexel University, told Live Science that the discovery and addition of the 97 areas demonstrates the sheer complexity of the cerebral cortex - the brain's outermost layer and the dominant structure involved in sensory perception and attention, and other functions such as language, tool use and abstract thinking.

The first map of the human cortex, which identified only 50 areas, was created by German neuroanatomist Korbinian Brodmann during the first decade of the 20th century.

Since then, other maps of the human cortex had been introduced, identifying between 50 to 200 areas, the researchers said.

According to the researchers, the new map was created based on brain data of a larger number of people than what was used in making the previous maps.

In creating the map, the researchers gathered data from brain scans of 210 healthy young adults, and measured, for instance, the thickness of the cortex. The scans were done both when the brains were resting and when they were performing simple tasks, such as listening to a story.

The researchers then confirmed the existence of the 180 brain areas using brain scans of another group of 210 healthy young adults.

According to Raghupathi, the new map will also enable brain surgeons to accurately pinpoint where in the brain their patient's health problem is coming from.

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