A dive into brain diversity

How common brain spaces can break the silos in neuroscience

One of the least appreciated aspects of brain organization is its diversity across species. Although anatomists have been mapping out brains of non-human species since the start of the 20th century, the laborious and invasive nature of this work means that we still have very little understanding of how our human brain differs from that of other species.

This has important implications for translational neuroscience. We use so-called model species, such as mice, rats, marmosets, and macaques to inform us about aspects of our own brain. However, research on human and non-human species is often done in very different traditions by separate groups of researchers.

Animal brain versus human brain

This leads to many confusions about how the anatomy of species translates (Van Heukelum et al., 2020, TINS) and even about terminology to describe cognitive tasks used in different species (Laubach et al., 2018, eNeuro). It has been argued that this is one of the reasons why many clinical trials fail (Hay et al., 2014, Nat Biotechnol). It is also one of the main causes of different types of neuroscientists ending up in silos, without communication with researchers outside their direct discipline.

    Animal brain versus human brain

    One way to address this problem is to formalize the similarities and differences in results obtained using different methods and in different species.

    Therefore, this Challenge proposes to build multi-modelmulti-species maps of the brain and to create formal translational mappings between these different maps. By building brain maps across modalities and species using the same approaches and using the same terminologies, it will be possible to describe them all within a common abstract space. This, in turn, will allow direct, quantitative comparisons of results (cf. Mars et al., 2021, Annu Rev Neurosci).

    Main goals of this challenge

    1. Understand principles of brain organization;
    2. Allow application of knowledge obtained in model species to our understanding of the human brain;
    3. Improve the translation between preclinical and clinical neuroscience;
    4. Reduce the number of animals used in research by better tailoring models and research questions.

    Related projects are: