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Major Piece of the Human Brain ‘Rediscovered’ After It Was 'Forgotten' for More Than a Century


"We were the first to view these images in the last century."

A major pathway in the brain that was "forgotten" for more than a decade has been "rediscovered" by a group of researchers.

“It was this massive bundle of fibers, visible in every brain I examined,” Jason Yeatman, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, said in a statement. “It seemed unlikely that I was the first to have noticed this structure; however, as far as I could tell, it was absent from the literature and from all major neuroanatomy textbooks.”

What Yeatman saw along with his colleagues at Stanford University, where he was a graduate student a couple of years ago, in MRI scans of human brains was a fiber pathway.

(Image source: Jason Yeatman via the University of Washington) The vertical occipital fasciculus was first identified in the brain of a monkey and later in human brains. Then it disappeared from anatomy textbooks all together until a team of researchers "rediscovered" it . (Image source: Jason Yeatman via the University of Washington)

Doing some digging, the scientists eventually found a small number of papers dating back to more than 100 years ago that described the pathway called the vertical occipital fasciculus discovered by a 19th-century anatomist Carl Wernicke in 1881.

Yeatman and Kevin Weiner, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, found the discovery described in an atlas that had not been checked out since 1912.

"[M]eaning we were the first to view these images in the last century," Yeatman said.

There are several reasons the authors of the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences believe the pathway might have been "forgotten." One was that its vertical orientation — that it was a brain connection that went up and down, rather than from front to back — was contradictory to what some scientists believed was happened at the time. Another possibility included naming issues.

Taking the "rediscovery" of the vertical occipital fasciculus a step further, Yeatman and Weiner took MRIs to learn more about the VOF structure and the role it might play in the brain. The pathway starts in the occipital lobe, the part of the brain involved with vision located at the back of a person's head. The researchers found that fibers extend from there to other regions of the brain associated with sight.

“We believe that signals carried by the VOF play a role in many perceptual processes, from recognizing a friend’s face to rapidly reading a page of text,” Yeatman said.

(H/T: io9)

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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