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Large neuron detected around the brain described as looking like a “crown of thorns”

The Allen Institute

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 03/13/17

The new discovery in mammals may help scientists know more about consciousness

No one knew it until now, but scientists have just detected a giant neuron wrapped around the entire circumference of the brain.

An article in Science Alert reports that the neuron is “so densely connected across both hemispheres, it could finally explain the origins of consciousness.” The research was presented at a meeting last month of the Brain Research though Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative in Bethesda, Maryland.

The recently discovered neuron is one of three that have been found in a mammal’s brain using a new imaging technique. Researchers who found it say the largest one wraps about the brain like a “crown of thorns.” This neuron emanates from one of the best-connected regions of the brain that we still know very little about called the claustrum, a thin sheet of gray matter believed to control consciousness in some way. The claustrum is so densely connected to several crucial brain areas that Francis Crick, a scientist famous for the DNA double helix discovery, refers to it as a “conductor of consciousness.”

Some strange medical cases over the years have made the case stronger for the theory that the claustrum acts like a conductor of an orchestra in the brain. Read more here about the fascinating case of a 54-year-old woman who was being treated for epilepsy. 

Researchers are awaiting confirmation of their findings before “delving further into what this could mean for humans.” These latest neurons have only been found in mice so far. But they do agree that this finding can help us make to progress in  understanding this mysterious part of the brain.

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