360 degree brain

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The above interactive features a male human brain, removed from his skull shortly after death. In order to preserve the brain’s delicate tissue and structure, it was ‘fixed’ in a solution containing formaldehyde, a process that transformed the brain’s soft-boiled-egg consistency into a more resilient, spongy one. The front of the brain, with the frontal lobes, is sitting on top of the metallic stand, and the back of the brain is propped on top of its own walnut-like cerebellum.

The most striking feature of this, and your, brain is the rippled surface, known as the cortex. This convoluted structure gains its appearance from the numerous inward (sulci) and outward (gyri) folds of the cortex, an evolutionary response to the need to fit such a complex biological organ into our relatively small skulls.

The slightly skewed deep groove down the middle highlights the brain’s structural bilateral symmetry, and the corpus callosum deep within functions to connect the two halves. The outermost surface shows the delicate pia mater, the innermost of the delicate membranes enveloping the brain (notice the slight damage to the pia towards the back and top of the left hemisphere). The dark, river-like meshwork surrounding the brain comprises the blood vessels whose normal function would be to nourish the brain with glucose and oxygen.

This brain is from the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank at Imperial College. Brain banks such as this are dotted around the world. They provide vital information in the path to understanding the brain. Collected brains give scientists the chance to fully examine the biological material, often with the aim of accurately diagnosing the cause of death, or to provide brain tissue for tightly regulated neuroscience research. Alongside damaged or diseased brains, however, it is vital that healthy brains are donated too, providing highly valued ‘control’ tissue that scientists can use for comparison.

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