Seeing beyond the gray areas: New tool uncovers the importance of the brain's white matter

June 08, 2006

A recent volume of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences brings together research from diverse communities on the potential for Diffusion Tension Imaging (DTI) to measure and model white matter tracts in the human brain.

While most people identify gray matter with the brain, less is known about the workings of the white-matter component of the neural anatomy-despite making up half of the brain's volume. This part of the brain and spinal cord takes its name from its cellular sheathing, a white fatty protein called myelin which insulates the nerve fibers. Until now, white matter has been less visible because its structures are missed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other techniques.

Now, because DTI has the ability to measure and model white matter tracts in the human brain, researchers believe there is new potential to discover the role of the white matter connections in psychiatric disorders, neurodegenerative disease and neuromuscular disorders. This new information on the role of white matter in the brain's functioning may also manifest ethical issues on how it should be used.
White Matter in Cognitive Neuroscience: Advances in Diffusion Tensor Imaging and Its Applications is volume 1064 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

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For more information on the volume, please visit the eBriefing at

John Ulmer is editor of the volume and is Associate Professor of Radiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He can be contacted

Since 1817, the New York Academy of Sciences has been bringing together scientists of different disciplines from around the world. Their purpose is to advance the understanding of science, technology, and medicine, and to stimulate new ways to think about how their research is applied in society and the world. For information on becoming a member of the Academy, visit:

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