Researchers at the University of Edinburgh plan to map the human brain at a level of detail unprecedented until now. It is hoped that mapping the trillions of synapses, the fine web of connections that facilitate the flow of chemical and electrical messages between brain cells, will reveal new insights into both human behaviour and diseases of the brain. The map will elucidate how synapses are organised across the brain as a whole and, crucially, any significant differences between the different regions.
The team of researchers who will work on the mapping are based at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences. A grant of £1.3 million awarded by the London- based Wellcome Trust research charity will help fund the ground breaking research project.
The same team who will work on the human brain mapping project have already worked on a similar piece of research for the mouse brain. A map of synapse connections is referred to a as ‘synaptome’ and has only become possible in recent times as a result of new cutting-edge technologies in molecular imaging and AI.
The mouse brain-mapping study revealed that the synaptome maps of mice specifically bred for aspects of autism and schizophrenia differed from those of ‘normal’ mice. They were less efficient in their ability to recall information properly. This suggested that diversity between the different kinds of synapse that have been identified could be crucial to how information is stored and recalled by a brain by facilitating its quick location through patterns of activity. It is hoped that this element will be further explored by the new human synaptome.
Professor Seth Grant of University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences commented on the announcement:
“Unravelling the immense complexity of the human brain is one of the great scientific challenges. We will chart the molecular architecture of the human brain and our maps will help explain the basis of our thoughts and actions in healthy people and those with brain disorders”.
The University of Edinburgh has a strong history of ground breaking research in the field of biotechnology. Scientists from the university’s Roslin Institute were the first to successfully clone a living mammal from an adult cell when Dolly the sheep was born healthy on July 5th 1996. Their contemporaries will be hoping to continue that rich tradition with their own revelations – this time around the structure and functioning of the human brain.