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What are Brainbow and ATLUM?

Brainbow labels each neuron in a live animal's brain with a different color. Scientists can see how and where the neurons connect to each other by generating images of the animal's brain. Scientists also can watch how the connections between neurons change, as the animal grows and ages.

ATLUM stands for automatic tape-collecting ultramicrotome. It is a machine that reads the wiring diagram of a brain. It uses an electron microscope to see the structure of the brain's wiring.

So far, these techniques have been used to study only animals with relatively small brains, such as mice.

Why do scientists take on the task of brain mapping?

Scientists hope that mapping the brain will help us to understand our brains better, and to get a better idea of how we learn and adapt.

There also are practical applications. Neurosurgeons can use brain mapping to plan safer surgeries. In one treatment for epilepsy, for instance, the affected part of the brain is removed.

Using EEG and functional MRI, surgeons can pinpoint - down to the millimeter -- the seizure center in the patient's brain, as well as areas in the brain that are active during moving and speaking. These images give doctors information about what to leave and what to cut out.

Brain imaging also is used to diagnose neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.