The Allen Brain Atlas Is A Super-Detailed Map Of The Brain

For a species that knows so much about what goes on in the universe, we know surprisingly little about what happens inside our own heads. In September 2016, Ed Lein and other researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science took humanity one more step in that direction by creating the most detailed map of the human brain to date.

Allen Atlas Brain Map

How They Did It

There have been many attempts to map the human brain, including German anatomist Korbinian Brodmann's mapping of the cerebral cortex in 1909 and a broad-scale compilation of MRI images from the Human Connectome Project in 2016. However, the Allen Brain Atlas, as it's called, is incredibly detailed, showing everything from its overall structure to its cellular details. That's because the researchers called on a variety of methods to create it.

First, they used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion weighted imaging to capture the brain's structure and the way the fibers connect. Next, they separated the brain into very thin slices and used special staining techniques to examine and label individual cells. Finally, they combined all of this data into a single open-source digital atlas, which is accessible to anyone with internet access.

The Atlas does have its limitations, since the entire map was made from only one human brain, so the information can't be generalized to the population as a whole. Still, it gives us a new understanding of the brain's anatomy and adds an essential resource to the neuroscientist's toolbox.

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The Human Connectome Project

A map that came out right before the Allen Brain Atlas doubled the number of regions that we knew existed in the human brain.

Written by Curiosity Staff September 30, 2016

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