In science classes, you have probably seen a map of all of the bones in the human body. Perhaps you have seen one of all of your blood vessels and muscles. But what about a map of all of the connections in your brain?
The Human Connectome Project (HCP) is a five-year project through the NIH, the goal of which is constructing a complete map of neural connections in humans. The HCP was launched in July, 2009, though as of July 24th, 2019, it was not yet declared to be completed. It is a joint mission between many research institutions, the main ones being USC’s Laboratory of Neuroimaging, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Martinos Center, Washington University’s Van Essen Lab, and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research. The HCP’s first phase was between 2010-2012, during which the teams designed the project, and the second phase happened between 2012-2015, when the teams gathered data.
One consortium of HCP institutions collected data from 300 pairs of adult identical twins and their siblings. Through comparing data of genetically identical people and their siblings, the HCP aimed to discover how genes and environment affect brain circuitry and whether brain circuits are inherited. Non-invasive neuroimaging technology was used to collect the data. The second HCP consortium focused on developing strong MRI technology.
The HCP is also working to define normal brain connectivity at many stages of life and is studying how brain connections change when people have certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. This area of research is one that will likely have significant impacts on humans, as being able to understand the changes that typically occur prior to the onset of a brain disease could save lives.
Thus far, scientists have discovered that the human connectome is a non-chaotic 3D grid, and Science Magazine has compared its layout to New York City because of the connectome’s grid-like organization. The studies also revealed that the connectome can be similar amongst individuals and can also be influenced by genetics. In addition, the HCP discovered a relationship between the wiring of the brain and behavior traits that we consider to be positive.
With a map of all of the connections within the human brain, scientists will be able to make great progress in understanding our neurological functioning and what causes it to diminish. The research conducted by the HCP, though not yet considered to be a completed project, will likely have a great effect on society. And perhaps one day, along with maps of our veins and arteries, our textbooks will have maps of the connections in the human brain.
“Human Connectome Project.” In Wikipedia, July 24, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Human_Connectome_Project&oldid=907708545.
“Human Connectome Project | About.” Accessed September 2, 2019. http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org/about/.
Scutti, Susan. “10 FAQ About An Astonishing NIH Project You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” Medical Daily, November 24, 2015. https://www.medicaldaily.com/10-faq-about-human-connectome-project-astonishing-sister-nihs-human-genome-project-362650.