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The Amazing Brain: Where Thoughts Trigger Body Movement

Posted on by Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.

3D column of red neurons (top) and blue neurons (middle)
Credit: Nicolas Antille, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, Brooklyn, NY

You’re looking at a section of a mammalian motor cortex (left), the part of the brain where thoughts trigger our body movements. Part of the section is also shown (right) in higher resolution to help you see the intricate details.

These views are incredibly detailed, and they also can’t be produced on a microscope or any current state-of-the-art imaging device. They were created on a supercomputer. Researchers input vast amounts of data covering the activity of the motor cortex to model this highly detailed and scientifically accurate digital simulation.

The vertical section (left) shows a circuit within a column of motor neurons. The neurons run from the top, where the brain meets the skull, downward to the point that the motor cortex connects with other brain areas.

The various colors represent different layers of the motor cortex, and the bright spots show where motor neurons are firing. Notice the thread-like extensions of the motor neurons, some of which double back to connect cells from one layer with others some distance away. All this back and forth makes it appear as though the surface is unraveling.

This unique imaging was part of this year’s Show Us Your Brain Photo and Video contest, supported by NIH’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative. Nicolas Antille, an expert in turning scientific data into accurate and compelling visuals, created the images using a scientific model developed in the lab of Salvador Dura-Bernal, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, Brooklyn, NY. In the Dura-Bernal lab, scientists develop software and highly detailed computational models of neural circuits to better understand how they give rise to different brain functions and behavior [1].

Antille’s images make the motor neurons look densely packed, but in life the density would be five times as much. Antille has paused the computer simulation at a resolution that he found scientifically and visually interesting. But the true interconnections among neurons, or circuits, inside a real brain—even a small portion of a real brain—are more complex than the most powerful computers today can fully process.

While Antille is invested in revealing brain circuits as close to reality as possible, he also has the mind of an artist. He works with the subtle interaction of light with these cells to show how many individual neurons form this much larger circuit. Here’s more of his artistry at work. Antille wants to invite us all to ponder—even if only for a few moments—the wondrous beauty of the mammalian brain, including this remarkable place where thoughts trigger movements.


[1] NetPyNE, a tool for data-driven multiscale modeling of brain circuits. Dura-Bernal S, Suter BA, Gleeson P, Cantarelli M, Quintana A, Rodriguez F, Kedziora DJ, Chadderdon GL, Kerr CC, Neymotin SA, McDougal RA, Hines M, Shepherd GM, Lytton WW. Elife. 2019 Apr 26;8:e44494.


Nicolas Antille

Dura-Bernal Lab (State University of New York Downstate, Brooklyn)

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

Show Us Your BRAINs Photo & Video Contest (BRAIN Initiative)

NIH Support: National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; BRAIN Initiative


  • John Branco says:

    Your work ethics is responsible for the health of all our children around world. Thank you to all staff members, executives, and volunteers for creating responsible, updated, powerful research for us.

  • Robert Eisenberg says:

    The image does NOT show the details in the description. A video is needed I suspect.
    “Notice the thread-like extensions of the motor neurons, some of which double back to connect cells from one layer with others some distance away. All this back and forth makes it appear as though the surface is unraveling.”
    It is VERY dangerous to show images that do NOT support the interpretation in the text.
    1) As science, it is unprofessional and should lead to rejection of the underlying paper, until corrected.
    2) As popularization of science, this is dangerous. Intelligent nonscientists will view this argument (that is NOT supported by the image shown) as just argument and not as the fact that it actually is

  • Karen Kirkland says:

    Post polio patient. Great visual! Keep up the fascinating work!! Helpful to visualize MOTOR NEURON DEFICITS and resulting “exhaustion” and inflammation.


    Good comments, I think the idea is more of a wow factor. Look we are finally starting to do this!

  • Macko0 says:

    I get more amazed when i think of how the human body system is a good example of a perfect system.

  • nasimolo says:

    Very beautiful, amazing too. The wonders of nature. Thanks for sharing

  • Salvador Dura-Bernal says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments. For more information and the relevant publications, please visit the lab web:

    We now have an NIH-funded Postdoc or Software Developer position available to work on multiscale models similar to the ones described in this postdoc. Please see this link for details on the position:

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