Neuroscientists find cortical columns in brain not uniform, challenging large scale simulation models

A new study by neuroscientists has found that the structure of the brain’s cortical columns can largely deviate within individual animals, and even within a specific cortical area.
The study also found that these structural differences are not arbitrary, but reflect organizational and functional properties of the peripheral sensory organs.
The study was based on recent advances in high-resolution imaging and reconstruction techniques (confocal microscopy and automated image-processing routines) developed by Dr. Oberlaender at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, enabling researchers to automatically and reliably detect the 3D location and type of every nerve cell throughout the entire brain.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (open access), and conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI),  the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (MPIBC) in Tuebingen, Germany, these findings promise to open new avenues of research on brain organization and sensory information processing.
“This study resolves a decade-old controversy whether the structure of the cerebral cortex is uniform across cortical areas and species,“ said MPFI/MPIBC neuroscientist Marcel Oberlaender, PhD, corresponding author of the paper.
“By determining the exact numbers and distributions of nerve cells within almost 100 cortical columns, the substantial differences observed across columns within the same animal argue against the principle of cortical uniformity.”
The researchers conducted their study by examining the brains of rats, focusing on the entire area of the brain known as the vibrissal cortex, which processes information obtained from facial whiskers located along the animals’ snout. Each cortical barrel column in the vibrissal cortex corresponds to one whisker.