A leading neuroscientist at MIT and one from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) report in the Nov. 4 special issue of Science dedicated to the brain that the controversy is over: The "protomap" and "protocortex" theories of brain development are dead.
The cerebral cortex is a sheet of around 10 billion neurons divided into distinctly separate areas that process particular aspects of sensation, movement and cognition. To what extent are these areas predetermined by genes or shaped by the environment? The protomap and protocortex theories developed before 1990 claimed, respectively, that the task-specific regions of the cortex are spawned by a zone of "originator" cells; or that long nerve fibers from the thalamus, a large ovoid mass that relays information to the cortex from other brain regions, are activated by external stimuli to impose identity on the homogeneous blob.
New evidence indicates that the development of cortical areas involves "a rich array of signals," an interwoven cascade of developmental events, some internal and some external, according to co-authors Mriganka Sur, Sherman Fairchild Professor of Neuroscience at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and John L. R. Rubenstein of UCSF.
Patti Richards | EurekAlert!
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