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Connectivity Atlases Lend Future Hands in Autism Research

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The CONNECT consortium is using diffusion magnetic resonance imaging to map the connections and microstructure of the human brain. CONNECT ('Consortium of neuroimagers for the noninvasive exploration of brain connectivity and tractography') was launched in 2009 as is funded with EUR 2.4 million. The funding is part of the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Tel Aviv University (TAU) leads the research effort.  Diffusion magnetic resonance imaging is being used to map the connections and microstructure of the human brain. The research progresses with the help of a tool called 'AxCaliber', developed in part by TAU's Dr Yaniv Assaf. (link)

'It's currently impossible for clinicians to "see" subtle disorders in the brain that might cause a life-threatening, devastating disability,' explained Dr Assaf, whose work focuses on clusters of brain writing, or axons, thus providing the support scientists need to create an enhanced working map of the brain for future research.

While mapping an atlas of the human brain (past puberty) is currently in progress, Dr. Assaf proposes that mapping from ...scans before puberty - and maybe even in utero - might ensue in order to assign those at risk for developing neurological illness. This project is scheduled for completion in 2011.

Another project led by Paul Allen, The Allen Brain Atlas, is to be completed some time in 2012. This project moves forward with the goal of complete gene by gene mapping...

...its data sets will list the roughly 20,000 genes that, switched on in the exact right place at the exact right time, give rise to this self-aware tangle of neurons. And because the vast majority of mental illnesses and disorders, from schizophrenia to autism, have a significant genetic component, scientists at the institute hope that the atlas will eventually lead to new methods of diagnosis and more effective medical treatments. To map the brain is to map its afflictions. (link)

Initially, the Allen Institute for Brain Science completed a Mouse Brain Atlas, which is now available at no-cost. The Allen institute moves forward with mapping of the human brain in order to provide specific gene, and individual neuron descriptions of the cortex from slices of tissue that are analyzed in order to determine which part of the DNA are activated in individual cells.

From endless dissections, infinite imaging by robotic microscopes, made to miraculous order laboratory robots that work to gather more than a terabyte of data per day, and innovative first of a kind assembly lines - The Allen Brain Atlas seeks to the brain's essential elements - the wet stuff, the genetic text, the electric loom of cells - conspire to create a sentiment piece of matter. (Paul Allen)

More about the Allen Brain Atlas, from Jonah Lehrer : "The atlas has become an essential tool for the field very quickly," says Susumu Tonegawa, a Nobel laureate and professor of neuroscience at MIT. He relies on the maps when creating "knockout" strains of mice—rodents that are missing a specific set of neural genes. "These are animals that at first appear normal," Tonegawa says, "but when you look closer you notice that they have deficits in learning and memory depending on what you have interfered with." By determining where each of these deleted genes is expressed in the mouse atlas, Tonegawa can quickly identify the circuit of cells he erased, which shows him exactly which parts of the brain were affected by the genetic mutation. "I can see what is broken," he says, "and that lets me understand how it works."

In all the wonder that science brings comes the always avoided question. Which is true - evolution or intelligent design? Some comment is given in to cause me to entertain the possibility that in order for an atlas of the brain to provide conclusive data (or universal theory) there has to be some understanding that beginnings in our design process did not evolve from a series of accidents, and instead came about as a more precise endeavor, by an as of yet unrecognized (by the peered reviewed scientific community) - Creator.

Successful completion of the mapping of the brain that results in accepted universal theory will undoubtedly provide a kind of expedient momentum in order that researchers can find answers to the questions involving treatment of neurological illnesses, including autism.


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