BigBrain: Ultra-high resolution 3D map of human brain

By Kristen Butler,
BigBrain: Ultra-high resolution 3D map of human brain
One digitized section of more than 7,400 originally cut from a preserved human brain to create a 3D atlas known as BigBrain. (Brain Imaging Center/Montreal Neurological Institute)

A 3D digital model of a complete human brain, called the BigBrain, shows brain anatomy in detail far exceeding that of existing reference brains.

The results of the BigBrain model, created at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University in collaboration with researchers at Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany, are published the journal Science.


"The BigBrain atlas offers nearly cellular resolution, that is detail close to the level of the cell, a capability that has not been previously available in 3D for the human brain," says Dr. Alan Evans, researcher at The Neurological Institute, co-founder of the International Consortium for Brain Mapping and co-creator of the atlas.

Researchers set out to zoom into the brain to see various cells the way we zoom into Google Maps to see houses on a street.

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The atlas was created from the brain of a 65-year-old female, dipped in parrafin wax, and then sliced into more than 7400 individual histological sections with a tool called a microtome. The brain sections were stained to detect cell structures, mounted on slides and then digitized with a high-resolution scanner.

"The BigBrain data set is 125,000 times (50 x 50 x 50) bigger than a typical MRI, and has a volume of 1 terabyte, which is equal to 1000 GB."


"Of course, we would love to have spatial resolution going down to 1 micrometer," said lead author Katrin Amunts from the Research Centre Jülich. "There are simply no computers at this moment which would be capable to process such data, to visualize this or to analyze it."

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The revolutionary atlas will enable modeling for simulation of brain functions, normal development and degeneration caused by disease. BigBrain will be valuable to researchers across multiple fields, including genetics, molecular neuroscience, electrophysiological and pharmacological studies.

BigBrain will be made freely available to researchers, scientists and doctors worldwide.

The new reference brain is part of the European Human Brain Project, and is not affiliated with the BRAIN Initiative announced by President Barack Obama in the U.S.

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