Imagine a map of the human brain so detailed, thorough and complete that it could revolutionize our understanding not only of how the brain works, but fundamentally, what makes us human.
That’s the goal of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Connectome Project. This ambitious effort underway now aims to enhance our understanding of how the structure of the brain and its functions are related by mapping the delicate network of its 86 billion neurons1, each with about 10,000 connections,2 collectively called the connectome.3
The effort to map the connectome and translate how its electrical signals create thoughts, emotions and behaviors as well as manage perceptions and motion is achievable because of new tools and technologies, like magnetoencephalography, which makes movies capturing brain electrical activity in milliseconds,4 and diffusion spectrum imaging, which tracks the movement of water through nerve fibers.5
Much like the Human Genome Project, which provided a treasure drove of information on the genetic makeup of humans, the Human Connectome Project is a voyage of exploration that could have far reaching implications for science and medicine.
Having a blueprint of the brain could lead to major advances in our understanding of brain structure and function, and will set the stage for study of abnormal brain circuits in many neurological and psychiatric disorders in ways not possible before.6