It addresses two crippling gaps in our understanding of the brain:
1. Hitherto, brain models have been derived from microscopic analysis of a handful (so to speak) of cadaver brains. Since significant physical and chemical changes begin to happen immediately upon death, this puts a hard limit on how accurate these models can be — and gives us no real clue about the true extent of the inaccuracy, because there were no living models to compare them with.
2. Until now, the science has focused on grey matter. We don’t even really know what white matter does, except convey the messages the grey matter processes. (It’s a bit like not knowing anything about your internet uplink — not ISP contact info, speed, bandwidth, nor hardware — even though your work and connections depend on your internet access. You can still get something done, but if anything goes wrong, where do you start?) One day in the near future, we’re going to be really embarrassed about ignoring white matter for so long.
This map was made as follows:
- using MRI that yields unprecedented resolution, able to provide solid estimates of such details as the width of different neuron fibers (!),
- done on living brains,
- in the skulls of 100 different people — a much more meaningful sample.
This is a great day in neurology. All of us with CNS disorders have a brighter future, with information from this map making its way into the science.