Monday, June 25, 2012

The Connectome: Neural Networks

To understand how the brain works and why it malfunctions, merely studying its regions is not enough. We must investigate neurons, the brain cells that generate the electrical and chemical signals associated with our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Neither is it sufficient to study single cells, as it is the coordinated operation of your billions of dumb neurons that makes you smart. To truly understand the brain, we must comprehend it as a network of neurons.

The parts of a neuron.

While the human brain contains millions of neurons, the humble roundworm only has 300 neurons and after 12 years of work, the connectome for the roundworm has been mapped.

The roundworm only has 300 neurons, Each node in this map has a four letter code, and corresponds to one of the worm’s 300 neurons. Each line between nodes represents a connection between neurons. Such a map was originally called a “wiring diagram,” drawing an analogy between the nervous system and an electronic device. Today we call it a connectome. It took over a dozen years of laborious effort in the 1970s and 80s to find this map.

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