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Researchers: The most detailed map of our brain's memory bank reveals something surprising

Researchers: The most detailed map of our brain's memory bank reveals something surprising

Scientists have created the most detailed map yet of the neural highways connecting the gray matter memory bank—the hippocampus—with the rest of the brain, revealing unexpected patterns of connections between regions

"We were surprised to find fewer connections between the hippocampus and frontal cortical areas and more connections with early visual processing areas than we expected," says University of Sydney psychologist Marshall Dalton. While there is still much debate about the hippocampus's exact role in memory, neurologists are confident that it plays a key role in building memory and integrating it with our cognition to allow us to make decisions about the future

A better understanding of how the hippocampus functions in context with other regions of the brain is necessary to one day help us tackle memory decline

Using a new imaging technique called diffusion-weighted imaging—a type of MRI that uses the diffusion of water molecules through tissue to generate contrast—Dalton and his colleagues created a high-resolution map of the connections between the hippocampus and cerebral cortex from the brains of seven people

"We have now developed a specially designed method that allows us to confirm where different cortical regions connect within the hippocampus," says Dalton. "This has never been done before in a living human brain." "What we did was take a more detailed look at the white matter pathways, which are basically the highways of communication between different regions of the brain

The researchers found that the hippocampus has different message networks, each linked to specific regions of the cortex. Our previous knowledge of these connections stems from the anatomy of primate brains, and the resulting brain map is very much in line with it

But the researchers discovered a much higher level of connections in the visual processing area of the human brain and lower in areas of the frontal cortex

Post-mortem analysis of non-human primates can reveal fine details down to the cellular level, so we may not have been able to resolve all of these connections in humans yet

Or it could be that the human hippocampus has fewer connections with frontal regions than we would expect and more connectivity with visual regions of the brain, as Dalton explains. This makes sense given that the hippocampus plays an important role not only in memory but also in imagination and our ability to form mental images in our eyes

Other recent studies have also found connections between these brain regions. And the team is curious to see whether similar patterns are consistent across people of different demographics. "With the expansion of the neocortex, humans may have evolved different patterns of communication to facilitate human memory and visualization functions, which in turn may support human creativity," Dalton continues


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