These are exciting times in neuroscience. The technology available for large-scale anatomical and functional brain mapping is advancing at a very high speed and it is foreseeable that these brain maps will have a profound impact on our understanding of how the brain works. Because of the importance of this topic, we devote a special focus to it.
To understand the brain we need to know how and when neurons fire in the living animal while it performs naturalistic behaviors. We need to know the underlying wiring patterns and anatomical configuration of the circuits and we need to be able to develop testable models of how behaviors arise from the underlying function of the cells in the brain.
Obtaining this type of systems-level information about the brain has not been easy up to now. But thanks to technological development, this is rapidly changing.
Rendering the connectivity maps of entire areas of the mammalian nervous system, like the retina, at nanometer resolution is now feasible in a few years work. These structural maps will contain unique information about the characteristics of neural circuits. But in addition to anatomical information, we need to monitor the brain at work at cellular level and we need to gather molecular information about its components. Together, the compilation of functional, structural and molecular data about the circuits in the living brain and their relation to behavior opens new posibilities for neuroscience.
Data-gathering alone will not, however, deliver the answers. Neuroscientists will need help from statisticians and mathematicians to make the information understandable and interpretable. After all, the data is only a tool that one hopes will lead to testable theories and models about how the brain works.
Because of the exciting moment at which the technology for mapping the brain is, we have put together a collection of Reviews, Perspectives and Commentaries in which experts discuss the state of the art technologies available for mapping the brain, the challenges and the potential of this endeavor. All the materials in this focus are freely available (thanks to our sponsors)—you can also read more about our views on the importance of this topic for neuroscience in our editorial.
We hope that these pieces will inform, inspire and incite discussions about mapping the brain and its potential to help us advance towards a deeper understanding of our own minds.