Nerve mapping breakthrough may fight neurological diseases


TAIPEI — A breakthrough in the mapping of monkey nerve fibers might lead to early diagnosis and improved treatment for neurological diseases in humans, according to Taiwanese research published yesterday.

“The structure of nerve fibers, we have found, follows a checker-board pattern,” said Tseng Wen-yih, a biomedical expert from National Taiwan University, at a press conference held to announce the publication of the findings in a peer-reviewed journal.

Neurological disorders such as schizophrenia, hyperactive disorder, autism, dementia and epilepsy can be triggered when a deviation occurs in the brain’s “wiring system,” he said.

Unlike the common portrayal of brain nerve fibers as branches of a tree that spread in every direction, Tseng said his team found that fiber bundles constitute an orderly three-dimensional grid that more resembles intricately woven cloth.

“The findings took us by surprise,” Tseng told reporters. “We have uncovered a clear blueprint of brain fibers.”

Tseng and a group of scientists from around the world, including some from Harvard University, have been working together for years to uncover fiber trajectories, and their latest findings were published in the journal Science on March 30.

The study was based on the brains of monkeys from six different species, but current magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology needs improvement to fully sketch out the fiber pathways of living humans, Tseng said.

Nevertheless, the discovery could yield many applications, including the understanding and prevention of neurological disorders in humans.

Taking autism as an example, Tseng said that the fiber bundles in sufferers in areas of cognition and language processing seem abnormal.