Creating and sharing detailed maps of brain connections


In a nutshell: The Marmoset Brain Connectivity Atlas is the first large-scale map of the network of connections in a non-human primate brain.

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Creating and sharing detailed maps of brain connections

The defining characteristic of the nervous system is the network of connections that let cells communicate with other cells in precise locations. Understanding these connections and their complexity in the cerebral cortex is crucial for deciphering brain function. However, mapping this system is an enormous challenge, particularly in complex brains like those of primates.

Brain Function CoE researchers have now developed the Marmoset Brain Connectivity Atlas, the first large-scale map of brain connectivity in a non-human primate.

The research team, led by Brain Function CoE chief investigator Marcello Rosa from Monash University, involved Brain Function CoE researchers from Australia, Poland and Italy, plus collaborators from China and the USA.

To create the Atlas, the researchers combined the results of retrograde tracer injections in marmoset monkeys. These results, which describe the locations of individual cells in the cerebral cortex, were obtained from over two decades of research. The locations were all fitted to a standard template so that the results from different experiments can be compared. For the same reason, consistent terminology is used to describe the results.

The Atlas includes several integrated, online tools to help users visualise and analyse cellular connections – within a single monkey or across the same brain region in all monkeys. Users can also compare the locations of certain brain cells with the results of their own imaging studies.

The Atlas is part of a series of open-access resources released by Brain Function CoE researchers. To encourage further research on brain connectivity, the Atlas is freely available to the scientific community. The raw data is also provided in full and in a machine-readable format. The researchers hope that the full availability of data, which can be analysed independently in different contexts, will reduce the number of animals needed to study the organization of the primate nervous system.

Next steps:
The researchers plan to examine the principles that govern the patterns of connection – and how different brain diseases can affect these patterns. The datasets in the Atlas may also provide the basis for realistic simulations of brain activity based on patterns of connections.

Majka, P., Bai, S., Bakola, S., Bednarek, S., Chan, J. M., Jermakow, N., . . . Rosa, M. G. P. (2020). Open access resource for cellular-resolution analyses of corticocortical connectivity in the marmoset monkey. Nature Communications, 11, 1133. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-14858-0

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