Recent technological and scientific advances have fuelled a neuroscientific revolution. Imaging techniques such as those shown above have given us an unprecedented view into the structure and function of our brain.
Advancements in MRI are giving us an unprecedented look at the fetal brain.
Until approximately a decade ago, what researchers knew about the developing prenatal brain came primarily from analyzing the brains of aborted or miscarried fetuses. But studying postmortem brains can be confounding because scientists can’t definitively pinpoint whether the injuries to the brain occurred before or during birth.
Over the years, however, improvements to MRI are finally enabling researchers to study the developing brain in real time. With these advancements, researchers are just beginning to understand how normal brains develop, and how abnormalities can manifest over the course of development. Scientists cataloguing typical infant brain development with the mini-MRI hope to use it eventually to study the brains of premature babies, who have a high risk of brain damage. Ultimately, clinicians hope to intervene early with therapies, if available and approved, to prevent developmental disorders when there are signs of brain damage in utero or shortly after birth.
Phineas Gage is one of the most famous patients in the history of neuroscience. He was 25 years old when he experienced a serious accident at his work place, where a tamping iron was shot through his head - entering under his eye socket at exiting through the top of his head - after an explosive charge went off. The tamping iron was over a metre long, and after exiting Gage’s head landed 25m away.
Initially Gage collapsed and went into minor convlusions, but recovered quickly and was able to speak after a few minutes. He walked with little assistance to an ox-cart and was brought to a nearby physician. Initially the physician did not believe his story because he was in such good condition, but was convinced when:
Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.
Gage exhibited a number of dramatic behavioural changes following the accident. Harlow, the physician who initially treated Gage, described this change “He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires”. However the surgeon Henry Jacob Bigelow described his condition as improving over the course of recovery, stated he was “quite recovered in faculties of body and mind”. This may have been early evidence of neural plasticity. This recovery was also reported by a physician who knew Gage while he lived in Chile, who described his ability to hold on a full time job as a Concord coach driver, a job that required exceptional social skills.
Gage’s neurological deficits following his traumatic brain injury is thought to have been exaggerated and distorted over the course of history, to the point that he is often portrayed as a ‘psychopath’. Scientific analysis of the historical accounts of Gage’s life following his accident, namely by the psychologist Malcolm Macmillan, find that these distorted accounts are most likely untrue, and that Gage made a very good recovery.
Post-mortem analysis of the Gage case concluded that it was the left frontal lobe that was damaged in the accident, although further neurological damage may have resulted from infection. Combined examination of the Phineas Gage case with the other famous cases of Tan and H.M. have concluded that social behaviour, memory, and language are dependent on the co-ordination of a number of different brain areas rather than a single region.
The large haemorrhage in this adult brain arose in the basal ganglia region of a patient with hypertension. This is classed as a haemorrhagic stroke. The other form of stroke is an ischemic stroke, which results from a blood clot blocking the flow of blood into areas of the brain.
Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring telescopic mosaic. The scene is anchored below by bright star EtaGeminorum, at the foot of the celestial twin, while the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with tentacles dangling below and left of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago. Like its cousin in astrophysical waters the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, the Jellyfish Nebula is known to harbor a neutron star, the remnant of the collapsed stellar core. An emission nebula cataloged as Sharpless 249 fills the field at the upper right. The Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away. At that distance, this narrowband composite image presented in the Hubble Palette would be about 300 light-years across.
A landmark project to map the wiring of the human brain from womb to
birth has released thousands of images that will help scientists unravel
how conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy and attention deficit
disorders arise in the brain.
The first tranche of images come from 40 newborn babies who were
scanned in their sleep to produce stunning high-resolution pictures of
early brain anatomy and the intricate neural wiring that ferries some of
the earliest signals around the organ.
The initial batch of brain scans are intended to give researchers a
first chance to analyse the data and provide feedback to the senior
scientists at King’s College London, Oxford University and Imperial
College London who are leading the Developing Human Connectome Project,
which is funded by €15m (£12.5m) from the EU.
Diffusion MRI showing connections in the developing brain.
Photograph: The Developing Human Connectome Project
The images show the intricate neural wiring that ferries some of the earliest signals around the brain.
Photograph: The Developing Human Connectome Project
3D reconstruction of the cortical surface and calculated features from a
seven-month, eight-month and nine-month baby brain MRI. From top to
bottom: white matter surface, cortical surface, inflated surface,
parcellation into different structures, sulcal depth maps, mean
curvature, cortical thickness and T1/T2 myelin maps. Photograph: The
Developing Human Connectome Project