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Software Developed to Generate Neural Brain Maps

Neuron illustration (NIH)

(National Institute on Aging, NIH)

Computer scientists at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island have written software that generates two-dimensional maps of neural pathways in the brain. Their findings appear in a recent issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics.

While 2D imaging may seem like a step back from more sophisticated 3D images, computer science professor David Laidlaw and two graduate students aimed to develop a system that could simplify the tracing of the brain’s neural connections. Current medical imaging systems that generate 3D images can sometimes offer too much detail, making it difficult follow the neural connections when diagnosing brain disorders.

Laidlaw and his team created these visual representations with a medical imaging protocol that measures the water diffusion in and around nerves of the brain. Researchers can use the 2-D neural maps to help identify whether the structure or size of neural bundles differ among individuals and show differences that may relate to performance, skills, or other traits.

One of these uses of 2-D neural maps is to pinpoint spots where the myelin that protects neurons may be compromised, which could affect the vitality of the neural circuits. Myelin is a fatty membrane that wraps around axons, the nerve fiber extensions.

According to the Myelin Project, myelin-deficiency diseases affect more than two million people worldwide. Hereditary neurodegenerative disorders such as the leukodystrophies and acquired diseases such as multiple sclerosis can destroy myelin.

The software allows for visual display in Web browsers with off-the-shelf tools such as Google Maps. The program also allows for a 3D rendering that pulls together the various neural bundles into a single overall view of the brain.

Read more: Neural Network Simulates Human Schizophrenia Symptoms

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