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"Brain Matrix" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital reveal a remarkably simple but previously hidden organizational structure within the brain.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Just Organizing My Thoughts.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound bite) Previously, most scientists, myself included, when trying to picture the wiring of the brain imagined something like a bowl of spaghetti--a large number of wires with no particular relationship among them and between them.

That's Van Wedeen of Massachusetts General Hospital who, with an international team of researchers; found that "using your noodle" has little to do with spaghetti. Through mathematical analysis and a new imaging technique Wedeen developed, they discovered the pathways carrying neural signals through the brain are arranged not in a disorganized tangle, but in a curved, three-dimensional grid.

(Sound bite) Each pathway was part of a two-dimensional sheet of pathways that together formed what looked exactly like a woven sheet of fabric. The fibers only run in two directions in the sheet, and then in a third direction perpendicular to the sheet. And these sheets all stack together.

Forming an interwoven 3-D grid, a simple organizational structure undetected until now because of the brain's folds and curls. The discovery is leading to a new understanding of how the brains of humans and other primates are organized, and why.

So my brain is organized--which is more than I can say for the rest of my life.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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