White matter map and why it matters

This article describes a new, life- and reality-based map of the white matter in the human brain:

First Micro-Structure Atlas of Human Brain Completed

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.


Re-myelination from stem cells

Scientists at Case Western Reserve have found a way to persuade pluripotent stem cells to become the specific type of cell that produces myelin and to re-myelinate living mice:

Mice stem cells guided into myelinating cells by the trillions

For once, I’ve got no logical criticisms to make. This is brilliant work which fills me with hope for those of us dealing with demyelination and all the havoc it causes. Here’s hoping it translates well into human models, and soon.