The typical image that we see of a brain is a wrinkly ball. This outer layer of the brain is called the cerebral cortex, and is one of the brain’s most noticeable features, but it’s also one of the least well understood.
“Technological and computational advances have enabled researchers to image the brain’s wrinkled exterior in stunning detail, mapping the size and shape of each fold. Scientists pursuing this new discipline of “cortical cartography’’ expect it to yield insights into how the brain develops and what happens when things go awry. Researchers have already discovered that the cerebral cortex – which controls higher-level functions, including thought, emotion, and perception – is folded abnormally in disorders ranging from autism to depression. Such insights could lead to better and earlier diagnoses and perhaps even new clues to treatment.
When the human brain develops in the womb, the outer surface is initially almost entirely smooth. But during the last few months of fetal development, the cortex begins to fold and wrinkle; by the time a full-term infant is delivered, most of the folding has been completed, though subtle refinements continue through early childhood. The folds create more surface area, increasing the size of the cerebral cortex that can fit in our skulls, and, it’s believed, partly accounting for the greater cognitive powers of humans compared with species with smoother brains.”
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