Brain Mapping - What is It?

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D. and Memory Loss Staff

Brain mapping is the study of tracing the neural circuitry of the brain to determine the function of neurons on a molecular level. The maps can potentially serve as tools to diagnose diseases of the brain, develop new therapeutic interventions as well as the progress of treatment. Mapping research is in its early stages as the tracing of the billions of neuronal circuits is extraordinarily complex and tedious work. Brain maps present the circuitry in two-dimensional diagrams as well three-dimensional brain mapping figures (Brown University, 2011).

Uses of Neural Mapping

One use of two dimensional brain maps is to identify breakdowns of the fatty membrane sheath surrounding the neurons known as myelin. The identification of areas of compromised myelin through the use of mapping provide neuroscientists another tool to study diseases causes by demyelination, such as multiple sclerosis, autism and a host of other neurodegenerative disorders (The Myelin Project, 2009).

Techniques Used in Brain Mapping

One technique used to track changes in the white matter of the brain is the use of an advanced type of magnetic resonance image technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). This technique tracks the flow of water through the white matter in the brain and provides multicolor images of the circuits of the brain. This method mapping the brain provides research the means to study changes in the brain across time. This longitudinal study of changes in the brain's white matters facilitates the study of progressive neurodegenerative diseases such asAlzheimer's Disease and dementia (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, 2010).

On the cutting edge of the development of brain analysis technology is the work of Lynn Enquist, Ph.D. at Princeton University. Dr. Enquist is using harmless viruses that are genetically engineered to produce a fluorescent protein as it passes through the brain. These glowing protein makers in the neuron effectively trace the circuitry of the brain when imaged. As this technique is refined, it provides neuroscientists the ability to discern disease processes and injuries in the brain, with the hope of developing treatment interventions for neurodegenerative disorders as well as traumatic brain injuries (Parker, 2010).

As the technology and techniques advance in mapping the brain, so does the understanding of the pathology of diseases that affect the brain, as well as the effects of traumatic brain injury on the functions of the brain. This understanding opens the doors for the development of new treatments for those who live with these brain disorders.


Brown University. (2011, June 1). Researchers Map, Measure Brain's Neural Connections. Retrieved August 5, 2011, from Brown University:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke-National Institutes of Health. (2010, December 10). Glowing Results: Brain Mapping Tool Proves Reliable Over Time. Retrieved August 6, 2011, from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke-National Institutes of Health

Parker, H. (2010, June 10). Princeton University-Virus 'Explorers' Probe Inner Workings of the Brain. Retrieved August 6, 2011, from Princeton University:

The Myelin Project. (2009). Demyelinating Diseases In Brief. Retrieved August 6, 2011, from Myelin

Also see:

Brain Images

Brain Tests

Neuropsychological Testing

For more information about this topic consider these resources:

Mapping the Mind: Revised and Updated Edition by Rita Carter.

The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain's Untapped Potential by Tony Buzan and Barry Buzan

Return from Brain Mapping to Brain Fitness OR

Memory Loss Facts

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