Segregation and Wiring in the Brain

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Science  30 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6076, pp. 1582-1584
DOI: 10.1126/science.1221366

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A mosaic of hundreds of interconnected and microscopically identifiable areas in the human cerebral cortex controls cognition, perception, and behavior. Each area covers up to 40 cm2 of the cortical surface and consists of up to 750 million nerve cells (1). The architecture—the spatial distribution, density, size, and shape of nerve cells and their processes—varies between different cortical areas. Nerve cells are interconnected within each area and with other brain regions and the spinal cord via fiber tracts, synapses, transmitters, modulators, and receptors. This incredible structural complexity underlies the functional segregation in the cerebral cortex. The ultimate goal—to understand the driving forces and organizational principles of the human brain beyond the cellular and functional details—remains a challenge. Reports by Chen et al. (2) and Wedeen et al. (3) on pages 1634 and 1628 of this issue, respectively, accept this challenge by analyzing the genetic topography of the cortex and the spatial course of fiber pathways in the brain. The studies find unifying hierarchical and geometric rules behind the organizational details.