Just how complex is your noggin? Pretty damn complex, according to researchers at Stanford. Their new imaging technique discovered that synapses are actually more like individual microprocessors than simple on/off switches, and your brain has hundreds of trillions of them.
Their findings, reported in the current issue of the journal Neuron, are based on a new imaging technique called array tomography that stitches image slices together into a full 3D model. The video above shows tissue from a mouse's brain, its neurons engineered to glow in neon green so the synapses could be distinguished against them.
According to Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and one of the lead researchers, the new images revealed the brain to be vastly more intricate than we had ever imagined:
One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor—with both memory-storage and information-processing elements—than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.
Yup, you've got the world's craziest network right on top of yer shoulders. Researchers at Stanford's School of Medicine have patented the array tomography technique and will now try to use it to learn even more about synapses—what happens to them when we learn new facts, what happens to them after we experience trauma etc. In the meantime, they've got my brain feeling a whole lot bigger. [Cell.com via CNET]