Neuroscientist Kasthuri Leading U. of Chicago Research to Map Billions of Brain Cells

Prof. Narayanan Kasthuri, assistant professor of neurobiology and researcher at the University of Chicago’s Argonne project, is leading unique research into mapping billions of brain cells.

Kasthuri and his colleagues are combining new techniques in microscopy, neurobiology and computing to reveal the brain’s inner mechanisms in unprecedented detail, the university said in a report.

In the abstract, the brain is an electrochemical computer, operating on electrical impulses and chemical signals sent between cells. Though the individual pieces may be small, on the scale of mere nanometers, drawing the wiring diagram for this machinery is theoretically possible, and has been done for very simple organisms, it said.

But the size and complexity of the human brain create far bigger challenges. Scientists estimate that the brain contains nearly 100 billion neurons, the basic type of brain cell. Each of those neurons makes tens of thousands of contacts with other cells, bringing the number of connections into the quadrillions, or a million billion, it added.

A complete map of these connections would be nothing less than the largest dataset ever created. But within that massive inventory could lie answers to some of the most elusive scientific questions: the fundamental rules of cognition, explanations for many mental illnesses, even the biological factors that separate humans from other animals, the report went on.

“It’s a huge theory of neuroscience that all of our behaviors, all of our pathologies, all of our illnesses, all of the learning that we do, is all due to changes in the connections between brain cells,” said Kasthuri, assistant professor of neurobiology at the university and neuroscience researcher at Argonne, in the report.