Next steps in understanding brain function

August 26, 2016

The most complex piece of matter in the known universe is the brain. Neuroscientists have recently taken on the challenge to understand brain function from its intricate anatomy and structure. There is no sure way to go about it, and Dr. Javier DeFelipe at the Cajal Institute in Madrid proposed a solution, in his Frontiers in Neuroanatomy Grand Challenge article "The anatomical problem posed by brain complexity and size: a potential solution."

Today, one year after the Challenge was published, DeFelipe and colleagues published a discussion around the actual size of the problem and possible solutions, in the new article "Comments and general discussion on 'The anatomical problem posed by brain complexity and size: a potential solution'."

"Rather than attempting to fully reconstruct the whole brain or a particular brain region, the solution seems to lie in realistic computational modelling of the brain," says DeFelipe. This approach has inspired scientists all over the globe to contribute to large multidisciplinary projects, known as big data projects. The challenge is grand because it goes straight into and beyond the matter of Is there one best way to study brain function?

Designing an approach that tackles brain complexity has challenged scientists to rethink some of the most fundamental aspects of their work and to innovate. "Realist brain models based on biological data obtained in the lab can speed our understanding of brain function, because we expect it to require much less than timely experiments in living tissue," says DeFelipe, "But as a neuroanatomist, I believe -- as do many of my colleagues -- that there is a lot of confusion about the anatomy of the brain and that there are frequent misunderstandings and wrong assumptions about many aspects of the brain organization or the use of experimental animals," he explains.

By uniting many contributors in the discussion, the article resulted in a constructive and thoughtful dialogue from different views on the study of the human brain. "My idea was to present this problem to other neuroscientists and general readers in a simple manner and, try to provide a solution," he says.

The study of the human brain is challenging, not only because of its complexity and technical difficulties, but also because of ethical limitations. "For obvious reasons, we are not always ethically allowed to collect all the necessary types of data directly from human brains. So, there is a big debate about the range of specific strategies that we should use." The discussion also touches whether big worldwide projects, like the Human Brain Project based in Europe and the Brain Activity Map based in the United States, are a new and better paradigm to go forward, he says, or "if it is better to just follow the most common and traditional scheme of supporting relatively small groups of researchers."

This discussion comes at an important moment for neuroscience, with potential impact on the hundred millions of funding devoted to the development of extraordinary technology inspired by biology. "The results of such large efforts can be a true paradigm shift", says DeFelipe, whose main focus is the study of cortical circuit organization and function, and the history of how we came to our current understanding.

The outlook is inspiring. "By taking on such a grand challenge, this type of work involving hundreds of scientists, will generate results beyond our daily pursuits in the lab", says DeFelipe.
-end-


Frontiers

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.