Cartographers of the Brain: Mapping the Connectome | Summary and Q&A

April 6, 2018
World Science Festival
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Cartographers of the Brain: Mapping the Connectome


Neuroscientists are mapping the human brain to understand its complex connections and functions, but there is still much to discover.

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Key Insights

  • ๐Ÿ The connectome is a project to map the connections between nerve cells and synapses at a fine level of detail, but it is a vast and complex task.
  • ๐Ÿง  The brain's wiring is highly intricate, with trillions of synapses, which makes creating a complete map a significant challenge.
  • ๐Ÿง  The connectome can help researchers understand individual differences, brain development, and brain disorders.
  • ๐Ÿ˜’ The use of advanced imaging techniques, such as diffusion imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), provides valuable data on brain connectivity and function.
  • ๐Ÿ’ Understanding the connectome can shed light on how the brain processes information, forms memories, and supports various cognitive functions.
  • ๐Ÿค• Plasticity, the brain's ability to change and adapt, continues throughout life, but the level of plasticity may decrease with age.
  • ๐Ÿง  Human brain development involves an initial increase in synaptic density, followed by pruning and selective strengthening of connections.
  • ๐Ÿง  Multiple factors, such as genetics, environment, and experiences, contribute to the individual differences observed in brain connectivity and function.


Roger command, request navigation... Imagine this: your aircraft has state of the art avionics. But your map is from the 15th century. Command, this chart says weโ€™re going to go over the edge of the earth please advise, please advise. Neuroscientists are stuck in this harrowing predicament as they try to make their way around the human brain. The f... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the Human Connectome Project and what are its objectives?

The HCP is a research initiative that aims to map the connections and organization of the human brain. Its objectives include identifying cortical areas, understanding structural and functional connectivity, and investigating individual differences.

Q: How do structural and functional connectivity differ?

Structural connectivity refers to the physical connections (wires) between regions in the brain, while functional connectivity is about how different brain regions work together on an ongoing basis, forming networks that support brain function.

Q: Can the mapping of the human brain lead to a better understanding of brain disorders and diseases?

Yes, studying the connectome can provide insights into brain disorders and diseases. By comparing the brain connectivity of individuals with and without certain conditions, researchers can gain insights into the underlying mechanisms and potentially develop better treatments.

Q: Can the connectome and brain mapping help us understand free will?

The connectome provides a detailed understanding of the brain's structure and organization, but the concept of free will is still a philosophical question. While the wiring of the brain plays a role in decision-making, the intricate and complex nature of brain connections suggests a level of complexity that resembles free will.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The Human Connectome Project (HCP) aims to create a comprehensive map of the human brain, revealing its distinct cortical areas and connections.

  • Structural connectivity looks at the physical connections in the brain, while functional connectivity focuses on how different brain regions work together.

  • The brain's wiring is highly complex, with trillions of synapses, and understanding its micro-wiring and organization is a major challenge.

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