New Brain Map Shows Twice as Many Functional Areas

A new map of the brain has been published which identifies many more distinct functional areas than were previously known. These functional areas are each specialized for a certain role or set of roles, and mapping their positions has long been regarded as important to furthering our understanding of how trauma and pathology affect the brain. French physician Pierre Paul Broca was the first to identify such an area, which he correctly hypothesized to be involved with speech processing, in the early 1860s. German neurologist Korbinian Brodmann’s publication four decades later of maps detailing 52 areas was a major advancement, but it would prove to be the last such leap for more than a century; just 31 additional regions were identified between 1909 and 2016. This backdrop of hard-won progress is what makes the new map so remarkable: for over 100 years, the number of known areas grew in single-digit increments to a total of 83, and this single effort grew that total to 180.

To build the new map, researchers used high-powered computers to look for correlations between the distributions of more than 100 anatomical and functional quantities captured by imaging scans conducted on more than two hundred patients. The researchers found the new map actually relies on only a few of the variables they examined, so they also created a tool by which an individual’s brain can be mapped using their methods. The study which contains the map is currently available online ahead of publication in Nature.