By: Daniel Hass, 1st year PhD student in the Neuroscience Program
There are hundreds of structures, layers, and cell types interacting with each other in complex ways in order for us to perform simple tasks, such as maintaining heart beat or moving a finger. Much of this complexity comes from the trillions of connections between brain cells. These connections are not only the basis for movement and perception, but also for thought and behavior.
A significant portion of neuroscience research is devoted towards mapping the connections between different areas of the brain. In fact, this is an area of research that has seen an increase in funding due to President Obama’s BRAIN initiative. If we know how neurons (brain cells) are wired, we may be able to determine what is different in the brains of individuals with neurological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
This is a pretty tall order for neuroscientists, and it is likely going to be years before the first human “connectome,” or map of all the neuronal connections in a human brain, is published.
The greatest roadblock of all, of course, is that the brain is 3-dimensional.