New maps reveal how brains are kept nourished
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Our brains are non-stop consumers. A labyrinth of blood vessels, stacked end-to-end comparable in length to the distance from San Diego to Berkeley, ensures a continuous flow of oxygen and sugar to keep our brains functioning at peak levels.

Studying the brains of mice, a team of researchers has deciphered the question of brain energy consumption and blood vessel density through newly developed maps that detail brain wiring to a resolution finer than a millionth of a meter, or one-hundredth of the thickness of a human hair.

To fully grasp and solve the problem, researchers filled 99.9 percent of the vessels in the mouse brain—a count of nearly 6.5 million—with a dye-labeled gel. They then imaged the full extent of the brain with sub-micrometer precision. This resulted in fifteen trillion voxels, or individual volumetric elements, per brain, that were transformed into a digital vascular network that could be analyzed with the tools of data science.

With their new maps in hand, the researchers determined that the concentration of oxygen is roughly the same in every region of the brain.

But they found that small blood vessels are the key components that compensate for varying energy requirements. For example, white matter tracts are regions of low energy needs. The researchers identified lower levels of blood vessels there. By contrast, brain regions that coordinate the perception of sound use three times more energy and, they discovered, were found with a much greater level of blood vessel density.