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An unprecedented five-year, $30 million effort to generate a first-ofits- kind map of all the major circuits in the human brain is being led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Minnesota. 

In all, 33 researchers at nine institutions will contribute to the Human Connectome Project. Using powerful, custom-built brain scanners, a supercomputer, new brain analysis techniques and other leading-edge resources, they will trace the anatomical “wires” that interconnect thousands of different regions of the human brain’s gray matter. The project is funded by the National Institutes of Health.   

“This effort will have a major impact on our understanding of the healthy adult human brain,” says Washington University neurologist and lead investigator David Van Essen, PhD. “It will also enable future projects that probe what changes in brain circuits underlie a broad variety of disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia.”   

“On a scale never before attempted, this highly coordinated effort will use state-of-the-art imaging instruments, analysis tools and informatics technologies—and all of the resulting data will be freely shared with the research community,” says Michael Huerta of the National Institute of Mental Health, who directs the NIH Connectome Project. “Individual variability in brain connections underlies the diversity of our thinking, perception and motor skills, so understanding these networks promises advances in brain health.” 

Subjects for the research will first come to Washington University for a comprehensive battery of behavioral tests and brain scans. Some will also be scanned at the University of Minnesota or Saint Louis University. Data analysis will occur at Oxford University; Indiana University; University of California, Berkeley; Warwick University; University d’Annunzio; and the Ernst Strungmann Institute. 

The information gathered via the scanning will allow scientists to map the brain’s connections, track how the connections transmit information and identify how brain regions work together in dozens of networks and sub-networks.
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