Dr. Henry Markram’s Team Uses Neurolucida in New Blue Brain Study

Blue Brain Project researchers have hit an important milestone in their quest to create a virtual model of the human brain. They figured out how to accurately predict the location of synapses in the neocortex; and Neurolucida played an important part.

In a paper published last week in PNAS, the research team led by Dr. Henry Markram at the Brain Mind Institute at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Lausanne, Switzerland, demonstrated that neurons grow independently of each other, forming connections in places where they accidentally collide. In other words, i is not chemicals that guide axons and dendrites along their path to form synapses.

“Neurons are growing as physically independent of each other as possible. They’re just expressing themselves, saying ‘I want this shape, this is my shape. I’m going to grow like this,’ and when they’ve all grown together, they just take what they get when they bump into each other. It’s just going to grow and rely on accidental collisions to decide where it’s going to form synapses. It’s a remarkable design principle of the brain,” Dr. Markram told EPFL News.

To achieve these results, the researchers used Neurolucida to create 3D models of neurons and form a virtual reconstruction of a cortical microcircuit. They analyzed the places where connections occurred, and found their model to be remarkably similar to the real-brain sample.

Read our previous article about the Blue Brain Project, as well as the research team’s latest paper:

S.L. Hill, Y. Wang, I. Riachi, F. Schürmann, H. Markram: Statistical connectivity provides a sufficient foundation for specific functional connectivity in neocortical neural microcircuits, PNAS, Published online before print September 18, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202128109

Vermont Public Television visits MBF Bioscience

A Vermont Public Television crew brought several cameras into our Williston office today to learn more about MBF Bioscience and Henry Markram, a long time customer of MBF.   Dr. Markram, director of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, is using Neurolucida to create a complete simulation of the 89 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections in the human brain by 2023.  This endeavor is called the Human Brain Project.

A simulation of the brain would transform science.  Researchers could test theories about how the human brain functions in health and disease, develop new diagnostic tests for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and  find new therapies for depression.  A simulation of the brain would also inspire the design of brain-like computers and robots.

Interview with Susan Hendricks, Ph.D., MBF Bioscience Staff Scientist

The film crew was making their way out just after lunchtime, with all necessary shots for their segment. The footage will be included in an episode on traumatic brain injuries as part of a series on Vermont Public Television that will air in October entitled, “Emerging Science.” Though the crew came here looking solely for information about MBF’s products and the Human Brain Project, they left with a little snapshot of the human environment at MBF.  I overheard discussions about newborn babies, office dogs, and Buddhist statues — “Nice place to work, right!?” said the camerawoman to her co-worker. “It smells so good in here,” the other woman remarked. Maybe this was due to 1:00 p.m. hunger, but it was clear they left with the memorable metaphorical scent of collaboration, passion, and hard work throughout MBF that will be hard to forget.Learn more about Markram’s project on YouTube



Dr. Henry Markram Talks About the Blue Brain Project in Science

Dr. Henry Markram has modeled a million neurons and a billion synapses since launching The Blue Brain Project six years ago, he said in a recent interview in Science. His ultimate goal is to create a detailed supercomputer model of the brain complete with every last pathway. The first step, the Switzerland based neuroscientist and longtime MBF Bioscience customer says, is to develop an automated system for gathering all the information that already exists on the architecture of the brain. Once this “brain-building software environment” is in place, scientists will be able create “computational models” of brains. In 10 years, he told Science, he expects to have “a first draft of a unified model of the human brain. A unified model is not a complete model, but it’s a model that accounts for what we know.”

In the interview, Dr. Markram responds to criticism he’s received from colleagues and explains how the Blue Brain Project is not as sensational as the media has made it out to be. “What is difficult to get across to the public is that the end result of what we build is going to be far more boring than they would hope. It’s going to be like a massive telescope or an MRI machine sitting in a hospital, and scientists will get together to write a proposal and they’ll book half a day on the machine to run a simulation to test a particular hypothesis,” he said in the Science interview.

He’s referring to all the excitement about the possibility of consciousness in a manmade brain. Dr. Markram has seen neural behavior reproduced when neurons and synaptic connections are recreated, but doesn’t yet know what the full potential of a completely reproduced brain model will be.

Consciousness or no consciousness, a new tool that showcases the myriad functions of the human brain that researchers can use to test all sorts of different hypotheses sounds pretty exciting to us.

The article “Blue Brain Founder Responds to Critics, Clarifies His Goals,” appears in the November 11 issue of Science.

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{Photo of Dr. Henry Markram via bluebrain.epfl.ch}

Kamila and Henry Markram say Autism Results from a Supercharged Brain

To a child with autism the world is an intense place. Strangers unnerve. Surprises unsettle. To cope, the autistic child creates his own internal world. It’s placid, secure, and void of extremes.

Though autism is one of the most common childhood developmental disorders in existence, affecting an estimated one in 110 children, we know little about how it works. Most theories suggest a deficiency in the brain caused by some combination of genetics and environmental factors. But Drs. Kamila and Henry Markram of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne say it’s not a deficient brain that makes autistic people socially inept, linguistically challenged, and prone to obsession. It’s actually the opposite. The brains of autistic people are so supercharged, they say, that their life experiences overwhelm them.

In their paper “The Intense World Theory — a unifying theory of the neurobiology of autism” (Frontiers in Neuroscience, 2010), the Markrams explain how overly strong reactions make the autistic brain excessively selective. This phenomenon, they say, becomes more extreme with each experience until the autistic eventually disassociates him or herself from “a painfully intense world.”

The Markrams studied the valproic acid rat, an animal model of autism. Their analysis of the rats’ neocortex and amygdala revealed hyper-reactivity and hyper-plasticity of the neural microcircuits in these areas of the brain — an unusual physiology that results in hyper-perception, hyper-attention, hyper-memory and hyper-emotionality.

“Basically, our theory really says that most autistic people or people with Asperger’s are savants,” Kamila Markram told New Scientist. “But this is buried under social withdrawal and fear of new environments. Their resistance to interaction and fear may obscure the hypercapability that they have. It may well turn out that successful treatments could expose truly capable and highly gifted individuals.”

Read “The Intense World Theory — a unifying theory of the neurobiology of autism” at Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

April is Autism Awareness Month. Learn more about autism and find out how you can help at autism-society.org.

{Markram K and Markram H (2010) The Intense World Theory – a unifying theory of the neurobiology of autism. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 4:224. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00224}