Weighing in at only around 1300 grams and measuring about 15 centimeters long, the human brain is by no means the largest organ in our bodies, but as we see, again and again, it is the most difficult to understand.
The massive brain mapping undertaking of the Human Connectome Project, as well as the emphasis in research projects on developing artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that mimic the brain's neurons are both proofs of this.
Every day, it seems, scientists are uncovering new functional aspects of the brain or new regions of the brain which we did not even know existed.
Now, a team of neuroscientists from the Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) believes that it has found a new region of the human brain.
What's in a Name?
The team, led by well-noted neuroscientist George Paxinos, have named the new region the endorestiform nucleus, because the core, found at the meeting point between the brain and spinal cord, sits inside the inferior cerebellar peduncle, or restiform.
The bundle of neurons is responsible for transmitting a range of important sensory and kinetic information that is important for coordinated movements.
As Paxinos explained to Science Alert: "The inferior cerebellar peduncle is like a river carrying information from the spinal cord and brainstem to the cerebellum. The endorestiform nucleus is a group of neurons, and it is like an island in this river."
To achieve the results, Paxinos led his team in brain imaging by utilizing an enhanced staining technique.
Because chemicals produced in the brain are directly targeted, the team was able to get a clearer picture of the cells operating in various parts of the brain.
Part discovery, and part accident, the team was finally able to confirm the endorestiform nucleus thanks to the innovative technique.
Below is a video outlining the exhaustive work of Paxinos and his team at NeuRA that lead to the discovery:
A Hunch That Paid Off
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the research, as Paxinos explains to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, is that he suspected decades earlier that this region of the brain existed, with many clues over the years confirm this.
This indicates that he patiently pursued other research projects until improved methods and technology could offer a better chance of allowing him to test the theory:
"There is nothing more enjoyable for a neuroscientist than finding a previously unknown area of the human brain. What is important is that this area is absent in monkeys and other animals. There must be some things that are unique to the human brain beyond its larger size, and this area is probably one of them.
What it remains to be done is to determine the function of this newly discovered brain region. Now that it has been mapped, it will be possible for it to be studied by the wider research community," he concluded.
Details about the study appear in a pre-peer-reviewed form in an upcoming neuroanatomy book authored by Paxinos, which is titled Human Brainstem: Cytoarchitecture, Chemoarchitecture, Myeloarchitecture.