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They hope to create a computer model of these connections in the future

Researchers from the University College London (UCL) in Britain have started to map the functions and connections between nerve cells in the brain, bringing them closer to creating a computer model of the body's most complex organ. 

Tom Mrsic-Flogel, study leader from the University College London, and a team of researchers, have begun to "untangle" the complex inner workings of the brain by sorting through individual connections and functions of nerve cells.

Mapping the brain's functions has been a challenging task that some scientists around the world are in the midst of attempting. For instance, Harvard researchers are creating a 3-D nanoscale model of neural circuits that shows individual connections in the neural network. Others have even started to map other information processing centers in the body, such as the spinal cord.

The task is challenging mainly because there are around 100 billion neurons in the brain, and each one is connected to thousands of other nerve cells. 

Now, researchers from UCL are making their own contribution to the cause through high resolution imaging of the visual cortex of a mouse brain. They chose this particular area because it contains thousands of neurons and millions of connections.

Mrsic-Flogel and his team used high resolution imaging to see which neurons in this area responded to a specific stimulus. Then, they sliced a portion of this tissue and added "small currents of subsets of neurons" in order to see which neurons would send electrical or chemical signals to one another. They repeated this technique over and over again until they could trace the connections and functions of these nerve cells. 

"Once we understand the function and connectivity of nerve cells spanning different layers of the brain, we can begin to develop a computer simulation of how this remarkable organ works," said Mrsic-Flogel. 

By understanding connections in the brain, the researchers hope to see how they deviate in those who have Alzheimer's, stroke and schizophrenia. But Mrsic-Flogel said it would take many years to make the computer model needed to understand these connections. 




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