We thought that the brain was a complicated snarl of interconnected wires, out of which bubble out complex thoughts and feelings. Turns out we're locked into a rigid communications grid from the beginning. A rigid, tacky grid. Take a look at the wiring schematic of your brain.

Take a look at the image below. Does it look like a complicated fractal, out of which the works of Shakespeare or an understanding of the photoelectric effect might spring? No. It looks like Clark Kent's shirt. But that's how the brain is hooked up. (Well, in this case, a monkey brain.) Researchers have shown that the brain is not the sprawling network that we imagine it to be, but a businesslike pattern of wiring overlapping at right angles to each other.


Doctor Van Wedeen of Massachusetts General Hospital used an ultra-accurate MRI to detect connections in the brain that haven't been seen before. The MRI uses diffusion spectrum imaging, a technique that tracks the motion of water in the nerve pathways, allowing many different connections to be seen even when they overlap each other. Past scans have hinted at a grid structure, with vertical, horizontal, and transverse pathways, this scan would provide more detail about busier 'intersections' of nerves. After examining living human brains and the dead brains of rhesus, marmoset, owl, and galago monkeys, about twenty five percent of the brain wiring structure, including all the intersections of the nerves, became clear enough to see a rigid order of criss-crossing paths.

Scientists believe that the 3D grid structure is a way of organizing development. If a nerve fiber in a developing brain can only turn in four directions, left or right, up or down, all the fibers are organized and more likely to reach their destination in an orderly fashion, and prevent neurological problems. They're hoping that a more in-depth look at the way the brain is connected may help understand and treat brain disorders.


Images: Van Wedeen, M.D., Martinos Center and Dept. of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University Medical School

Via Science.