Prof. George Paxinos – a neuroscientist of international repute – and his team at NeuRA (Neuroscience Research Australia) have discovered an “intriguing” region of the human brain that had remained undetected for as long as it did.
Prof. Paxinos has Christened his discovery Endorestiform Nucleus, and not without reason, as it pertains to a location close to where the brain meets the spinal cord.
Although Prof. Paxinos had long suspected the existence of the Endorestiform Nucleus, he didn’t have the straining and imaging techniques to actually validate his theory, until now.
“The region is intriguing because it seems to be absent in the rhesus monkey and other animals that we have studied,” the NeuRA website has quoted the professor as saying.
“This region could be what makes humans unique besides our larger brain size,” the professor said.
What the professor is, basically, implying is that the dexterity and precise motor movements that humans are blessed with is probably due the existence of this region in the brain, which, as mentioned, has not been detected in animals that he has researched.
“I cannot imagine a chimpanzee playing the guitar as dexterously as us, even if they liked to make music,” Paxinos told ScienceAlert.
The Endorestiform Nucleus is located within the inferior cerebellar peduncle, an area in the brain that assimilates sensory input and motor vestibular functions to finetune our posture, balance and motor movements.
“I can only guess as to its function, but given the part of the brain where it has been found, it might be involved in fine motor control,” said Prof. Paxinos, according to the NeuRA site.
In his long and distinguished career, Prof. Paxinos has produced several atlases of the brain.
An MRI/DTI Atlas of the Rat Brain, The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates, Atlas of the Spinal Cord, The Spinal Cord, and The Mouse Nervous System are but a few examples from his vast repository of books and atlases.
He launched his book The Brain Atlas as recently as March 2018 in Canberra, while he was on a three-day visit to the Australian capital to take part in the “Brains on the Hill” event.
Australian Brain Alliance (ABA) researchers from across the continent-country had assembled there to interact with politicians and parliamentarians and showcase Australia’s latest and most advanced neurotechnologies.
“We met with over 75 Senators and MPs, and we showed our representatives that the Australian Brain Initiative is integral in preparing Australia for the next century,” ABA Chairperson Professor Linda Richards said about the event.
So accurate and popular are Prof. Paxinos’ brain atlases that neuroscientists across the world use them in their research work.
“Professor Paxinos’ atlases showing detailed morphology and connections of the human brain and spinal cord, provide a critical framework for researchers to test hypotheses from synaptic function to treatments for diseases of the brain,” the NeuRA website quotes Prof. Peter Schofield, CEO at NeuRA, as saying.
Natalie Farra, Senior Editor at Elsevier – an international multimedia publishing house behind most, if not all, of Prof. Paxinos’ books – said:
“It is truly an honour for Elsevier to be continuing Professor Paxinos’ legacy of publishing with us.
“His books are world-renowned for their expertise and utility for brain mapping, and for their contributions to our understanding of the structure, function and development of the brain.”
The discovery of the Endorestiform Nucleus could, potentially, play a significant part in helping researchers find a cure for debilitating brain disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease and motor neuron diseases (MND).
Speaking to ScienceAlert, Prof. Paxinos said that “the inferior cerebellar peduncle is like a river carrying information from the spinal cord and brainstem to the cerebellum,” adding that “the endorestiform nucleus is a group of neurons, and it is like an island in this river.”
He also told ScienceAlert:
“The endorestiform nucleus is all too evident by its dense staining for [the enzyme] acetylcholinesterase, all the more evident because the surrounding areas are negative,”
“It was nearly the case the nucleus discovered me, than the other way around.”
Meanwhile, neuroscientist Lyndsey Collins-Praino from Adelaide University, who was not part of the research, told ScienceAlert that it was too early to determine the true significance of the “intriguing” discovery.
“While one can speculate that the endorestiform nucleus may play a key role in [the functions of the inferior cerebellar peduncle], it is too early to know its true significance,” she said.
It’s also a bit early in the day to say with conviction that the endorestiform nucleus is unique to humans; a lot more work is required before definite conclusions can be arrived at.
Prof. Paxinos has detailed his findings in his latest book entitled ‘Human Brainstem: Cytoarchitecture, Chemoarchitecture, Myeloarchitecture.’