In the brain, nerve cells never work alone. In a neural circuit, the activity of one cell directly influences many others. To gain insight into how these interactions control brain function, researchers are exploring the connections between nerve cells and how they change over time. This insight could lead scientists to a better understanding of how the nervous system develops and the ways disease or injury disrupts the natural rhythms of brain cell communication.
With new imaging technology, scientists are now better able to visualize circuits connecting brain regions in humans. In addition, advances in genetic engineering, microscopy, and computing are enabling scientists to begin to map the connections between individual nerve cells in animals better than ever before. These findings may one day shed light on disorders scientists suspect arise from errors in neural network development, including autism and schizophrenia.