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Launch of the most comprehensive atlas of the human brainstem

In a ceremony held at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), medical history was made today. Hosted by Professor Ian Jacobs, the Vice Chancellor of The University of New South Wales, “Human Brainstem: Cytoarchitecture, Chemoarchitecture, Myeloarchitecture” was launched. It is the most comprehensive atlas of the human brainstem, akin to a Google map for the brain.

The brainstem is critical for the regulation of vital functions such as breathing, movement, and arousal, as well as cognition and emotion. Different regions (nuclei) in the brainstem are compromised in a range of human pathologies, including the progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple systems atrophy, autism spectrum disorders and Parkinson’s disease. Further, brainstem serotonin and dopamine nuclei play a role in depression and schizophrenia, respectively.

“By identifying similarities between the human and animal brain, we are able to speed up research,  leading to improved treatments for brain disorders,” said co-author Professor George Paxinos, from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).

A brain map allows researchers to target specific regions in order to explore brain function and develop treatments for diseases. By identifying brain regions that are common in humans and experimental animals (homologies), scientists inspired by human considerations can navigate seamlessly between the brains of humans and experimental animals and construct models of disease.

Professor George Paxinos, AO, is the author of the most cited Australian publication, The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates. The atlas of the human brainstem is his 54th book; he was joined by Professor Charles Watson, AM, and Dr Teri Furlong in the authorship.

“Mapping the brain is fundamental to neuroscience research. This research will assist surgeons, radiographers, psychologists and neuroscientists to investigate how the brain works and to treat debilitating conditions,” Dr Furlong said.

NeuRA has over 300 researchers who specialise in neurological conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease, and they investigate new methods of treating and preventing these conditions.