The first realistic three-dimensional diagram of a thalamocortical column in the rodent brain with a conceptually inventive approach and adept research tools has been created by Max Planck Florida Institute (MPFI) scientists.
A vertically organized series of connected neurons that form a brain circuit, the cortical column is considered the elementary building block of the cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for many of its higher functions.
This achievement is the first step toward creating a complete computer model of the brain, and may ultimately lead to an understanding of how the brain computes and how it goes awry in neurological, neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders.
"This is the first complete 3D reconstruction of a realistic model of a cortical column," said Marcel Oberlaender, PhD, first author on the study.
"This is the first time that we have been able to relate the structure and function of individual neurons in a live, awake animal, using complete 3D reconstructions of axons and dendrites. By creating this model, we hope to begin understanding how the brain processes sensory information and how this leads to specific behaviours," he noted.
In addition to recreating the structure of the cortical column, the study also sheds significant light on the function of its constituent neurons, and the relationship between their functionality and structure.
In looking at neurons' response to sensory stimulation, the researchers discovered that sensory-evoked activity in some of the cells can be directly correlated with their structure and connectivity, which marks a first step toward understanding basic organizational principles of the brain.
The study has been published online in the journal Cerebral Cortex.