His brain was harvested within several hours of his death with or without clear legal permission–I could not find clarity online about that–so it has been studied in several ways. More later. Now here is a visual rendering of the connectome.
Each neuron sends out one axon that can end in hundreds of synapses on several other cells, and each neuron receives hundreds on inputs through the synapses on its dendrites. The connectome activity is through these connections for 10,000,000,000 neurons forming all of our learnings, thoughts, feelings and self. And then we come to glial cells; they are not in the connectome picture because they are the chemical partners of the neurons, many glial cells for each neuron. So far this is old news, sort of.
Then we have the Science News article, 8/22/15 entitled “Maestros of Learning and Memory” about how glial cells do not just provide metabolic support to neurons, as I was taught back in the day, but contribute to learning, forming and maintaining memories and increase and decrease in size and number as their neurons need. Oligodendrocytes provide the myelin sheath to improve transmission (the Schwann cells above), the astrocytes infiltrate synapses influencing their function in learning and memory, and microglia tending to the health of neurons. This is a really cool read. Returning to my metaphor of the brain as river delta (see post 7/25/15), the water and its channels would be the neuronal connectome while the various islands, mud flats, and marshy colloids would be the glial cells. Collections of glial cells would then be fertile estuaries accruing from connectome activity.
Keeping on with my exploration of our humanity, especially our art, I am reading Robert Jourdain’s interesting book, Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy. So far I find his rendition of the musical side very informative and the brain side very elementary and at times wrong. He writes that the only unusual feature of Einstein’s brain was an increase of glial cells in the left inferior parietal lobe which would serve spatial imagination and he was famous for thinking with visual images. I remembered it differently and checked my recall. Indeed, Einstein’s brain differed in other ways, a larger corpus callousum,
larger motor areas presumably supporting violin playing, and others suggestive of the ability to make creative connections. The glial cells finding is a more recent finding, but the take home finding is the same, that the connectome river and the glial delta form a neural ecology and some of these support extraordinary fertility, whether this is seen in Einstein or Mozart or Picasso. The times, they are a’changing. Travel on.