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Revolutionary new brain map identifies nearly 100 new regions

This is a good week to be interested in all things brain science. That’s because researchers involved with the Human Connectome Project have announced that they’ve created a brand new map of the brain that doubles the total number of known areas identified in the cortex.

“The map that’s been used in brain imaging for as long as I can remember is a map made more than 100 years ago,” Matthew Glasser of Washington University in St. Louis, one of the paper’s authors, tells Digital Trends. “It’s a 2D schematic map, which researchers continue to look at when they’ve got new own data to try and see where a particular brain activation is taking place. I didn’t like the guesswork involved in that — which is how I got involved with this particular problem.”

It’s a good thing that Glasser did, because the new research carried out by himself and colleagues has resulted in a wholly new topographic map of the brain: with 180 cortical regions in total, of which 97 are completely new. The map was created by combining the MRI scans of 210 healthy young adults, providing an enormous data set for the researchers to draw on.

Most excitingly, the work gives each of the 180 mapped areas its own unique ID. “We were able to train a machine learning classifier to learn the ‘fingerprint’ of each cortical area,” Glasser continues. “The result is that if you go and get an MRI scan, you’ll be able to find these areas.”

There are myriad potential use cases involved in a greater understanding of the human brain, of course, but Glasser says that some of the most immediate will be aiding people doing brain imaging. “It’ll be easier to figure out exactly where [cortical] activations are taking place,” he notes. “Another application would be in neurosurgery, where surgeons are trying to avoid cutting regions of the brain involved in movement or speech production, for example. Our map will be able to provide them with far more detailed information than is currently available.”