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The Amazing Brain: Toward a Wiring Diagram of Connectivity

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

It’s summertime and, thanks to the gift of COVID-19 vaccines, many folks are getting the chance to take a break. So, I think it’s also time that my blog readers finally get a break from what’s been nearly 18 months of non-stop coverage of COVID-19 research. And I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to do that than by taking a look at just a few of the many spectacular images and insights that researchers have derived about the amazing brain.

The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, which is an NIH-led project aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain, happens to have generated some of the coolest—and most informative—imagery now available in neuroscience. So, throughout the month of August, I’ll share some of the entries from the initiative’s latest Show Us Your BRAINs! Photo and Video Contest.

With nearly 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections, the human brain remains one of the greatest mysteries in science. Among the many ways in which neuroscientists are using imaging to solve these mysteries is by developing more detailed maps of connectivity within the brain.

For example, the image featured above from the contest shows a dense weave of neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the part of the brain involved in learning, memory, and some motor control. In this fluorescence micrograph of tissue from a mouse, each neuron has been labeled with green fluorescent protein, enabling you to see how it connects to other neurons through arm-like projections called axons and dendrites.

The various connections, or circuits, within the brain process and relay distinct types of sensory information. In fact, a single neuron can form a thousand or more of these connections. Among the biggest challenges in biomedicine today is deciphering how these circuits work, and how they can misfire to cause potentially debilitating neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and traumatic brain injury.

This image was produced by Nicholas Foster and Lei Gao in the NIH-supported lab of Hong Wei Dong, University of California, Los Angeles. The Dong Lab is busy cataloging cell types and helping to assemble a wiring diagram of the connectivity in the mammalian brain—just one of the BRAIN Initiative’s many audacious goals. Stay tuned for more throughout the month of August!


Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative (NIH)

Dong Lab (University of California, Los Angeles)

Show Us Your BRAINs! Photo and Video Contest (BRAIN Initiative/NIH)

NIH Support: National Institute of Mental Health


  • Constance H. says:

    Fantastic! Had a brain injury at 21 and now at 88 I have beginning of senility. Would love to know how or if it is related to the injury at 21.

    • Pat says:

      I would also be interested in an answer to the above question. I am 67 and my TBI happened at 48 yrs old. I’m also very worried about the link to Alzheimer’s. Constance, at 88 you’re my inspiration!

    • Gary Frank Scott says:

      Constance, your 88 yr young brain has healthy astrocytes. This color image is poorly informative since there is not any distinction of those brain cells that are what let your neurons work!

    • Katy says:

      Yes, there are other diseases that actually are a bit more fatal than a 99.9% survival rate like Covid. It’s about time to stop linking the word “covid” into EVERY research article that has nothing to do with infectious disease. Neurological diseases kill a lot more people every year and these past 18 months, you would think that covid or rather a coronavirus ( be it the seasonal flu, common cold or actually covid – because there is no test to differentiate according to reports) is the number one killer in the US and it spreads through healthy people! GOOD grief, stop this incessant narrative and stop the fear mongering . . .

    • Andrea M. says:

      I would be very interested in an answer about epilepsy, which I have both types – the Grand mals and petit mals. I have had them all my life!!

  • Dorothy Yu says:

    Enjoyed learning about this subject! Thanks!

  • Paulie says:

    Hit my head on a diving board. Didn’t remember the incident until Mom and Sis told me later. I have very little memories of my past and can’t recall and retain info from fairly present activities.

  • Stephen Benham says:

    These are amazing! I teach courses in music education where we look at how neural pathways are formed. Is it possible to get these videos for use in a classroom settings?


    My brain works differently from most others’ brains. I think in moving pictures, so English is my second language. And I am able to use both sides of my brain working quite well together. Allows me to be intuitive and use what I call ‘A, B, X’ thinking (vs. ‘A, B, C, D…’) Gifted but terrible at math, because. teachers go through it and move on before I can translate it. But quite good at statistics.

    • Carry Williams says:

      Intuative! Gifted people know there is much more to learn on neurons and how far the energy can project

  • John Belton says:

    I stopped reading when it the brain article plugged “Covid vaccines.”

  • Peter Behel says:

    If we could somehow display these scanned images in real time, perhaps we might be able to exert some sot of influence over their firing.

    • Mora Yurdayzoff says:

      Do you mean in video format as opposed to scanned image? Or do you mean live so we can see how they react to stimuli as it happens?

  • Warren & Judith Eckert says:

    As a patient living with cataplexy for more than 40 years I am very interested in learning about the misconnecting of the neurons that account for total lack of muscle control during an episode of strong emotions.

  • Andy Lynn says:

    Thank you for sharing. I had a brain injury last year where I’m sheered the neurons. It’s very interesting. I’m a hair stylist where it takes for me to be active with both hands. I’m definitely seeing my left side improvements daily. The brain is truly an amazing part of the body. From my left side not working at all and being in a wheelchair to where I’m at today. It definitely always strikes my attention. Thank you for sharing.

  • Phoenix says:

    My son has a TBI and he lost his sense of smell and taste and his balance coordination is off I’m wondering if it will ever come back?

    • MomofTBI says:

      With the right therapies such as physical therapy, concussion exercises and other various supportive treatments, can make possible for some to heal.

      Have you had your son see an eye doctor that specializes in TBI’s? They have prism glasses that can help with balance, brain exercises, etc as your standard eye doctor doesn’t dive deep enough to detect abnormality in eyes that can cause balance/coordination issues from head injury. My child has slowly gained some sense of smell back but not all, and balance improved. It took awhile as it took trying many specialists until finding the right places/treatments. New pathways can be doctor said its like being a spectator at football game. Lead player is hurt, the spectator who never played football takes over the injured players role, and has to build the skills to perform correctly.

      Best wishes for a full recovery for your son.

  • Judicious Gardener says:

    Neuronal plasticity is remarkable. There is also the aspect of neuronal pruning using methodology that have been practiced over a millennia across different cultures. The terminology may be different, but the end results may be similar. May be interesting to analyze the effects of heavy metals in small quantities.

  • Theresa T. says:

    Very interesting information. My husband had a thalamic stroke due to af. Not much improvement in 2 years. Wish there was some help.

  • Dalila P. says:

    My daughter suffered a concussion last year. She has and is experiencing so many issues since then. She and I can definitely see the differences from before to now. I am surprised at how educators, let alone athletic directors and departments that treat concussions so matter of fact. If you have any reports pertaining to that, I’d appreciate a link. I’ll search in the meantime.

  • Marie C. says:

    I am a ruptured brain aneurysm survivor and would love to see something like this relating to that.

    • Gary S. says:

      My wife had that in 2005 and died with irreversible aphasia due to Cerebral vasospasms. Did you experience that as well?
      What is needed is treatment to stop those to help brains heal.

  • Ellen K. says:

    Clearly an artist friend thinks and dreams in colored visual images. I am learning to paint and draw starting in my 60’s. Recently I realized I sometimes have visual images when I am awake. Usually I have ideas. Dreams have always been visual. I am 83.

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