HUFFINGTON POST

These Stunning Images Show The Brain's Fragile Beauty & What Happens When The Wiring Goes Awry

06/18/2014 12:30 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2014

Ever wished you could peer inside your own brain? What's it like in there?

Complicated, that's what.

Scroll down for images.

“The human brain has more cells than there are stars in the Milky Way and these cells communicate through a thousand times as many connections," Dr. Sally Till, a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said in a written statement released in conjunction with the opening of a new exhibit of brain micrographs on display at Edinburgh's St. Andrew's Square. "Our goal is to understand how even small changes in these connections can have such detrimental effects on learning and memory."

The images in the exhibit--which was curated by the university's Patrick Wild Centre for Research into Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities and the Scottish charity Mindroom--are absolutely stunning.

“These images are simply too beautiful to be hidden away in a lab," Sophie Dow, founder of Mindroom, said in the statement. "They were created to further our understanding of the brain but they can also be viewed as stunning examples of abstract art. Our hope is that people admiring the pictures on show will also come away with a greater awareness of what it means to be affected by learning difficulties and other brain conditions."

  • Sensory Superhighway
    University of Edinburgh
    Just like the electrical wires in the national grid, the electrical connections between brain cells, as shown in this picture, have to be well insulated. If this insulation is lost, neurons lose their ability to communicate efficiently. This is what happens in several neurological diseases including multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • Navigating Axons: A Circuitous Route
    University of Edinburgh
    This colorful picture shows the wiring in a developing brain. Axons (red) are the cables that neurons use to transmit their information, often over relatively long distances and taking highly circuitous routes. The other colors represent different areas of the brain.
  • Glial Grandeur
    University of Edinburgh
    At first glance this may look like a spider’s web but this web measures just 1/20 of a millimeter. It is made up of two types of brain cells – astrocytes in green and a white oligodendrocyte. These cells were originally thought of as the support cells for neurons but it is now known they are essential for many brain functions.
  • Female Mosaic
    University of Edinburgh
    This picture of neurons from a female brain highlights those that have switched off the X chromosome inherited from the mother (in green), and those that have silenced the X chromosome inherited from the father (in red). In cases where an altered gene on one of the X chromosomes causes autism or intellectual disability, only around a half of the cells will be affected. This helps to explain why these conditions are less common in women than in men.
  • Breakdown In Communication
    University of Edinburgh
    This image shows differences between a typical brain (left) and autism (right). The different colors identify different areas of the brain.
  • The Astrocyte
    University of Edinburgh
    These star-shaped cells, or “astrocytes,” were once thought to be simple support cells for neurons. Now we know that they are much more important than this--they also help to create and maintain an environment in the brain that is optimized for electrical and chemical communication.
  • Neuron Networks
    University of Edinburgh
    Scientists can use mathematics to model brain circuitry, as shown in this picture. They use this approach to predict how brain communication is altered in neuropsychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and ADHD.
  • Wiring The Brain
    University of Edinburgh
    This is a detailed map of the brain wiring in a sleeping newborn baby (left) and an adult in their seventies (right), visualized using MRI.
  • An Electron’s View Of The Brain
    University of Edinburgh
    Neurons talk to one another across a gap called the synaptic cleft, rather than being directly connected to one another. A trained eye can identify the wires that are transmitting messages and those that are receiving information in this picture.
  • Circuit Building Block
    University of Edinburgh
    Neurons have branched projections that extend from their cell body called dendrites which give the cells a tree-like appearance. It’s through these dendrites that neurons receive information from hundreds to thousands of other cells.
  • Encoding Space
    University of Edinburgh
    Our brains hold specialized neurons called grid cells that help us to keep track of where we are. This heat map shows the regions in space where an individual grid cell becomes active during exploration of a circular room.
  • The Egg: Mendel's Moment
    University of Edinburgh
    This picture shows the egg or “oocyte” preparing the genes that will be passed on to its offspring, which are highlighted in red.
  • Regenerating Spinal Cord
    University of Edinburgh
    Images such as this one, which shows the spinal cord from a zebrafish repairing itself, are helping scientists to study biological mechanisms that could one day reveal treatments for people who are paralyzed due to spinal cord damage.
  • High Fidelity
    University of Edinburgh
    This picture shows the difference in brain signals from a typical brain (left) and from a brain affected by a condition similar to Fragile X Syndrome, the most common inherited form of autism (right).
  • The Seahorse
    University of Edinburgh
    This is a close-up image of a particular area of the brain called the hippocampus, named from the Greek word for “seahorse” because of its shape.
  • A Fragile Balance
    University of Edinburgh
    This image shows a series of MRI pictures from the brain of an individual with Fragile X Syndrome, the most common inherited form of autism.

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