Brain Pathway Rediscovered After 100 Years

Modern magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques are giving scientists unprecedented insight into the inner workings of the human brain. When neuroscientist Jason Yeatman noticed a large fiber bundle that did not exist in modern scientific literature, he couldn’t believe he was the first person to discover it.
It turns out that he was right; the structure had been described before. However, the book that contained the last known mention of the fiber bundle had not been read in over 100 years. Yeatman and Kevin Wiener of Stanford University are co-authors of the paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The structure is now officially named the vertical occipital fasciculus (VOF). It is a tract of white matter that defies convention and connects areas of the brain vertically, rather than horizontally like most other white matter pathways. The pair used advanced MRI techniques and found that the pathway originates in a region at the back of the brain where visual processing occurs called the occipital lobe. Signals then spread out to many other regions in the brain, depending on what is required by the visual input.
“We believe that signals carried by the VOF play a role in many perceptual processes, from recognizing a friend’s face to rapidly reading a page of text,” Yeatman said in a press release. The researchers also developed a computer algorithm for other neuroscientists to use that will allow measurements of the VOF to be completed more quickly. Since this structure has been forgotten for so long, there is a lot of catching up to do in learning about VOF’s function and determining if it can be targeted clinically to treat reading or visual disorders.