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Wiring of the human brain

Zeynep M Saygin

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Bird's-eye view of nerve fibres in a normal, healthy adult human brain. The back of the brain is on the left of the image and the left side of the brain is at the top of the image. Brain cells communicate with each other through these nerve fibres, which have been visualised by diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI MRI). Diffusion-weighted imaging is a specialised type of MRI scan; here it is measuring the movement of water in many directions in order to reconstruct the orientation of the nerve fibres. As this is a 3D image the direction of the nerve fibres has been colour-coded. Fibres travelling up and down (between the top of the head and neck) are coloured blue, fibres travelling forwards and backwards (between the face and back of the head) are coloured green, and fibres travelling left and right (between the ears) are coloured red. These patterns of connectivity in the brain are being used to better understand brain function and how this changes in people as they develop or in those with dyslexia. This image appears as a result of our MIT partnership.

Why did the judges choose this image?

James Cutmore, Picture Editor for 'BBC Focus' magazine, said: "This image really grabbed me visually out of the all the submissions from the MIT images. It's an eye-catching image but at the same time it's completely functional. The colours have been used to indicate the direction of the fibres, which creates a colourful and chaotic picture, but at the same time the subject matter is very clearly depicted. I find the whole idea of being able to map connectivity patterns in the brain truly amazing, and I can only imagine how far this technology will progress, and how amazingly detailed the images could be over the next ten years."

How does this relate to brain development and dyslexia?

Zeynep explained: "My work looks at the link between connectivity and brain function. I use connectivity patterns to predict brain function in healthy adults, and see whether the same patterns are present in children. This is especially interesting for mental functions that only emerge with relevant experience, such as reading. Are the connections that are necessary for successful reading already present in children before they can read? If so, can we detect differences very early on, even before a child learns to read, and implement interventions that will help them years down the line? These are the questions I'm working on."