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Engineers study brain folding in higher mammals
Date:10/1/2007

Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis are finding common ground between the shaping of the brain and the heart during embryonic development.

Larry A.Taber, Ph.D., the Dennis and Barbara Kessler Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Phillip Bayly, Ph.D., Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are examining mechanical and developmental processes that occur in the folding of the brains surface, or cortex, which gives the higher mammalian brain more surface area (and hence more intellectual capacity) than a brain of comparable volume with a smooth surface.

Folding is very important in human brain development because some of the worst neurological problems such as schizophrenia, autism and lissenchephaly (smoothness of the cortex, found with severe retardation) are associated with abnormal brain folding. The neuromuscular disorder dystonia is possibly associated with faulty connectivity in the brain, which has been hypothesized to affect cortical folding. The researchers hope that increased understanding of brain folding might someday help prevent such diseases.

Although folding is generally what makes higher mammals smart, Albert Einstein had an abnormally folded brain that resulted in genius. Certain folds in his brain were absent, which might have enabled the area associated with mathematical reasoning to be larger than normal because it didnt have a boundary to restrict its growth.

Looping, folding

According to Taber, the heart and the brain both begin as simple tubes that eventually develop in totally different ways. Looping is a key phenomenon in the early embryo where the tubular heart bends and rotates in a precise manner. Taber has found that the processes of bending and rotation in the embryonic heart are actually driven by at least two different mechanical forces. His research could help scientists better understand the roles physics and mechanics play in the normal developing heart
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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert

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