Thoughts towards a human brain neural connection map

By Grant Jacobs 03/10/2010

I like to follow what computational neurologists are working on. Large-scale studies in neurology using genetics and other approaches use techniques related to my own skills (I’m a computational biologist) and neurology is fascinating.

Here Sebastian Seung from MIT presents a TED lecture about work towards what he calls the human ‘connectome’, a map of all the neural connections within the human brain. His lecture is intended for non-biologists. Those familiar with neuronal systems will find to light or over-worked, but he speaks well to those outside of neurology.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that researchers would stop making every new system-level collection an ‘ome’. The novelty wore off years ago. Surely people can start just calling them what they are?

Personally, I suspect you will need (much) more that ’merely’ the neural connections themselves to define workings of the brain.

Think of the genome (the complete DNA sequence), the proteome (all the proteins encoded by the genome), the interactome (the interactions of the proteins), and so on. They’re all maps of one kind or other.

They’re all very useful, but none on their own are sufficient to describe the functioning of the system(s) they contribute to. A map of all neural connections in the brain will be immensely valuable, but I am skeptical that on it’s own it will ’define’ brain function on it’s own if recent ‘maps’ in biology are anything to go by.

(Having an interest in epigenetics, I’d love to see the epigenetic state of each neuron playing a role, in conjunction with or over-and-above the connections the neurons form… I wrote earlier about a paper arguing for a link between epigenetics and memory.)

Whatever your thoughts, the mapping projects for the brain are every bit as exciting as their molecular biology counterparts.

Other videos on Code for life:

I remember because my DNA was methylated

Neurological shorts

The inheritance of face recognition (or, should you blame your parents if you can’t recognise faces?)

Book sales, frumpy readers, and mental rotation of book titles

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