Michio Kaku calls the brain "the most complicated object in the known universe." So, despite plenty of study, maybe it's not a total surprise that we're still finding new parts of it. After decades of mapping the brains of humans and other mammals, and publishing a multitude of books and journal articles on the subject, Professor George Paxinos AO (Order of Australia) has discovered a new region of the human brain that he says could be part of what makes us unique.
Professor Paxinos is a world-renowned brain cartographer, with his brain atlases essential resources for neuroscientists the world over. Now working at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), his mapping efforts have uncovered a new region of the brain that he has named the Endorestiform Nucleus. Although he had suspected the existence of this previously hidden area for 30 years, it is only thanks to the superior staining and imaging techniques available today that it has been revealed.
The function of the Endorestiform Nucleus is still unknown, but it is located near the junction of the brain and the spinal cord within the inferior cerebellar peduncle, an area that combines sensory and motor information to refine our balance, posture and fine motor control. For this reason, Professor Paxinos theorizes the new region could play a part in fine motor movements, and could aid in the search for treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and motor neuron disease.
And so far, the Endorestiform Nucleus appears to be unique to humans.
"The region is intriguing because it seems to be absent in the rhesus monkey and other animals that we have studied," says Professor Paxinos, adding, "this region could be what makes humans unique besides our larger brain size."
However, Professor Paxinos hasn't yet studied a chimpanzee brain to discover whether our closest living relatives also have this newly discovered region, but this is something he plans to do in the coming months.
Professor Paxinos details the discovery of the Endorestiform Nucleus in his latest book, Human Brainstem: Cytoarchitecture, Chemoarchitecture, Myeloarchitecture, which will be available to order this month, and you can hear him discuss the discovery in the video below.
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