The brain grows and shrinks throughout life

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[EN VIDÉO] BigBrain, the high-resolution 3D atlas of the human brain
The collaboration between German and Canadian scientists has resulted in 3D modeling of the human brain at the record resolution of 0.02 mm, 50 times better than what was done before. This project is called BigBrain, here it is on video.

In the health record, several pages are dedicated to monitoring the height and weight during the growth of children. What if the same curve existed for our brain ? This is what Jakob Seidlitz, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and more than 200 other researchers around the world have done. Thanks to a collective effort, they were able to collect more than 120,000 different brain MRIs covering all stages of life: from the fetus to the hundredth birthday.

Collect MRIs around the world

This collection of brain images is unique and was not created specifically for this study. It would have been too expensive and too long. Jakob Seidlitz and his colleagues were therefore able to count on the international scientific community by asking researchers around the world who have published a scientific study involving brain MRIs to kindly share their data with them. An initiative welcomed with enthusiasm by the researchers who agreed to collaborate. The number of MRIs collected is impressive, despite everything, the selection is not completely inclusive. It suffers from a lack of diversity, which limits the generalizability of the results.

According to an article published in Natureonly three datasets come from the continents of Africa and South America, which account for about 1% of the total dataset. The rest mainly concerns white people, European or American, and urbanites. Thus, the scientists behind the project consider this first version of the growth curve as a draft to be improved.

Track brain growth over time

Although imperfect, the brain growth chart still offers unprecedented insight into the evolution of the brain depending on age. From the MRIs, four parameters could be extracted and correlated with age: the volume since matter grey, the volume of white matter, the volume of the cerebral ventricles, the cortical thickness. While some parameters reach their maximum during childhood, such as cortical thickness or gray matter volume, white matter volume peaks only in adulthood. The increase in ventricular volume is related to theatrophy of the brain and increases exponentially from the age of 40. In its final version, this growth chart could become a tool for monitoring the growth of children, like those for height and weight.

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