Julich Brain Atlas Could Advance Study of Psychiatric and Aging Disorders

Researchers working on the multilevel Julich Brain Atlas have described how it could aid the study of psychiatric and aging disorders in a paper published in Biological Psychiatry.

Brain Atlas

Brain Atlas. Credit: Credit: Zachlod et al. 2022

Brain atlases play a critical role in neuroanatomical definition. They typically provide the foundation for automated image analyses. A brain atlas portrays the shape, variability, and location of brain regions and takes multiple forms, from structure description to group or population maps.

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The Julich Brain Atlas was developed by scientists working in the Human Brain Project (HBP), Europe’s biggest neuroscience program. It can improve the study of aging and psychiatric disorders by helping to correlate brain networks with the anatomical structure underlying them.

This new paper provides a summary of the brain atlas. The researchers also describe how it could be used for psychiatric research.

A look into cytoarchitecture

Scientists hone in on the human brain’s cytoarchitecture and receptor architecture in the paper.

Also called cytoarchitectonics, cytoarchitecture is the study of the cellular composition or structural arrangement of neurons in the central nervous system (CNS). It focuses on the distribution, morphology, and density of cells in the CNS. This study area has a long history when it comes to brain mapping.

As far back as the late 1800s, researchers in the field of neuroscience first observed structural differences between cortex areas. That marked the start of the division into separate areas.

Neuroscientists view the areas as critical correlates with both brain function and dysfunction.

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Atlases for diagnosing disorders

The Julich Brain Atlas provides useful insights into brain connectivity and function. It maps the microarchitecture of the brain at levels of detail that have never been seen before.

This atlas doesn’t just help to better grasp the brain’s cellular architecture. It also offers maps of receptor distribution for brain activity-modulating neurotransmitters.

Using post-mortem brain data, researchers showed that the Julich Brain Atlas can help to better understand the natural variability between individuals by creating probabilistic maps in 3D spaces.

The atlas can be linked to other atlases. Paper authors listed some recent use cases of these tools in research, including analyses and sharing of high-resolution image data between users and comparison with fMRI datasets.

The tools make it possible for users to check a specific region’s cytoarchitecture and connectivity, both internally and externally.

Researchers can link the Julich Brain Atlas to the Allen Brain Atlas for gene expression data to enable deep multimodal studies of the brain. This is possible with the use of a dedicated tool called JuGEX.

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Scientists have succeeded in identifying new brain areas involved in major depressive disorder with the aid of the Julich Brain Atlas. They also managed to link their findings to local variations in the expression of multiple candidate genes for the disorder using JuGEX.

Custom-made maps of dysfunction or aging can be produced from large population studies to enable dementia diagnosis, according to researchers.

The Julich Brain Atlas is described as a “living” tool. It will keep evolving as new insights are added.

References

Mapping cyto- and receptor architectonics to understand brain function and connectivity

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