Illuminating neural networks

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Ben Jeurissen - iMinds-Vision Lab / Department of Physics, University of Antwerp


An animated MRI scan of a volunteer's brain for the ‘Brain-DTI’ experiment using tractography to show neural networks. Researchers at the University of Antwerpen, Liege and Leuven in Belgium devised the Brain-DTI study to learn more about how astronauts’ brains adapt to spaceflight.

Researchers suspect that astronauts’ brains adapt to living in weightlessness by using previously untapped links between neurons. As the astronauts learn to float around in their spacecraft, left–right and up–down become second nature as these connections are activated.

To confirm this theory, up to 16 astronauts will be put through advanced MRI scanners before and after their spaceflight to study any changes in their brain structure. A control group on ground will undergo the same scans for further comparison.

Several common disorders found on the ground arise from the brain not adapting to signals from the body correctly. A type of vertigo, for example, can develop when the brain does not adapt to conflicting signals from the inner ear, much like when an astronaut is in space.

Medical researchers now have a starting point to look for problem areas in the complex brain structure in people who suffer from such disorders.

For the first time a controlled study using advanced MRI methods is showing researchers where to look in the brain’s complex neural network to target areas for further study and cures.

The animation was made by Ben Jeurissen from the  iMinds-Vision Lab, Department of Physics at the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

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