Neuroscientists Create a Digital Rat Brain

Markram et al., Cell (2015)
Markram et al., Cell (2015) /

Markram et al., Cell (2015)


Neuroscientists have managed to create a digital version of part of a rat brain. The Blue Brain Project is an arm of the international research consortium the Human Brain Project, which focuses on simulating the brain. The digital reconstruction, put together by 82 scientists from around the world, is about the equivalent of a cubic millimeter of brain tissue in a rat, simulating 30,000 neurons and 40 million connecting synapses. 

A cubic millimeter may not sound too impressive, but the scientists were able to get this small slice of digital brain to act like a real biological neocortex. The virtual tissue showed similar electrical behavior to an actual rat brain.

The researchers performed tens of thousands of experiments on rats’ neocortexes, creating a comprehensive archive of all the types of neurons and synapses they found. They came up with a set of rules that governed where neurons were located and how the synapses connected them [PDF], then expounded on that knowledge to create a larger slice of digital tissue that follows the same patterns and behaves in the same ways. 

Creating a simulation of a rat brain isn’t quite the same thing as making a digital version of the human brain, but it puts scientists closer to that goal. According to The New York Times, the study on the simulation, published in the journal Cell, is one of the longest neuroscience reports ever. 

[h/t: The New York Times]