Researchers have produced a new digital 3D model called "BigBrain" atlas to enable scientists to study one of the body's most vital organs.
The model's resolution is finer than a human hair, so it can reveal clusters of brain cells and even some large individual cells. It is being made available to scientists around the world.
To make the atlas, researchers sliced a cadaver brain from a 65-year-old woman into 7,400 thin sections, stained them to reveal tiny features, and photographed each one. They then used computers to combine the data into a 3D digital model.
The idea of thin-slicing a brain to study its anatomy is not new. In fact, complete bodies of a man and a woman were sliced and photographed about 20 years ago to create an anatomy reference called the Visible Human Project.
For the new brain-mapping project, the researchers chose the woman's brain for no special reason other than it was basically healthy, said Katrin Amunts, of Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf in Germany.
She is lead author of a report on the atlas published on Thursday in the journal Science.
Scientists have begun mapping data from other brain studies on to the new model to gain new insights, said senior author Karl Zilles, of the Juelich Aachen Research Alliance in Juelich, Germany.