Moritz Helmstaedter How Is the Cerebral Cortex of Mammalian Brains Wired?
© Maximilian Dörrbecker
Max Planck Society
"The Max Planck Society is Germany's most successful research organization. Since its establishment in 1948, no fewer than 18 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists, putting it on a par with the best and most prestigious research institutions worldwide. The more than 15,000 publications each year in internationally renowned scientific journals are proof of the outstanding research work conducted at Max Planck Institutes – and many of those articles are among the most-cited publications in the relevant field." (Source)
Max Planck Institute for Brain Research
'The Max Planck Institute for Brain Research is a fundamental research and scientific training institution focused on understanding the brain. The human brain is a formidably complex machine, composed of about one hundred billion neurons and trillions of connections, or synapses between them. Out of such a system, as if magically, arise perception, behavior and thought. The brain is often described as the "most complex machine in the known universe".
Brains are products of evolution, a response of biological organisms to selection pressure. Consequently, brains solve many complex, yet specialized problems: find food, identify and avoid danger, learn and recognize kin, learn from past associations, predict the near future, communicate, and in a few species, transmit knowledge. This all seems so simple. Yet we know that these problems are complex because our attempts at solving them with artificial machines have been disappointing so far. Today's computers are getting better at solving pure-computation problems (chess for instance). But they are still poor at solving object-, character- or face-recognition tasks, operations that our brains carry out effortlessly. And brains work with very little power (about 30W in humans). They are a triumph of efficiency.
Studying and understanding the brain is important for many reasons. First, it is a fascinating scientific challenge. Because of the diversity and complexity of the fundamental problems we face, modern neuroscience is an interdisciplinary science par excellence, involving (among others) molecular biologists, biochemists, geneticists, electrophysiologists, ethologists, psychologists, physicists, computer scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Understanding the brain requires reductionist approaches as well as synthetic ones. Simply put, it is a formidable and interesting challenge for scientists with a passion for fundamental research.
Second, understanding the brain is of paramount importance for medicine. Data from the World Health Organization show that psychiatric and neurological diseases are among the main causes of disability and disease. Indeed, in 2005, brain disorders accounted for 35% of the economic burden of all diseases on the European continent. While our institute is not a medical institution, the knowledge we produce (e.g., on mechanisms of neural development, synaptic plasticity or brain dynamics) is of fundamental relevance for applied neurological research (e.g., neurodegenerative diseases, psychiatric disorders).' (source)
Each nerve cell in mammalian brains communicates with about a thousand other nerve cells. This creates a communication network that is likely one of the most complex networks that we know of. Understanding the rules by which this network is created and by which it operates is one of the current questions in neuroscience. MORITZ HELMSTAEDTER studies this connectivity and he is particularly interested in how the cerebral cortex is wired up in mammalian brains. As he explains in this video, the researchers use highly advanced electron microscopy to create a three-dimensional image dataset from which they reconstruct the network structure of the brain. They found, in contrast to popular opinion, that the wiring in the cerebral cortex of mammals is not random but that neurons decide whom to contact and which neurons should go when. That the mammalian cortex has this level of precision is an important insight for further studies and could be helpful in the study of psychiatric diseases.
LT Video Publication DOI: https://doi.org/10.21036/LTPUB10630
Axonal Synapse Sorting in Medial Entorhinal Cortex
- Helene Schmidt, Anjali Gour, Jakob Straehle, Kevin M. Boergens, Michael Brecht and Moritz Helmstaedter
- Published in 2017
webKnossos: Efficient Online 3D Data Annotation for Connectomics
- Kevin M. Boergens, Manuel Berning, Tom Bocklisch, Dominic Bräunlein, Florian Drawitsch, Johannes Frohnhofen, Tom Herold, Philipp Otto, Norman Rzepka, D. W. Werkmeister, G. Wiese, H. Wissler and Moritz Helmstaedter
- Nature Methods
- Published in 2017