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New Study Details Previously Unexamined Images of Albert Einstein's Brain


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By: Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

einsteinbrain.jpg
Top: Dorsal photograph of Einstein’s brain with original labels. Bottom: Our identifications. a2 = angular; a3 = anterior occipital; c = central; e = processus acuminis; fm = midfrontal; fs = superior frontal; inp = intermediate posterior parietal; ip = intraparietal; m = marginal; mf = medial frontal; ocs = superior occipital; otr = transverse occipital; par = paroccipital; pci = precentral inferior; pcs = precentral superior; pma = marginal precentral; pme = medial precentral; po = parieto-occipital; prc = paracentral; ps = superior parietal; pst = transverse parietal; pti = postcentral inferior; pts = postcentral superior; rc = retrocalcarine; u = unnamed. k = presumed motor cortex for right hand; K = ‘knob’ representing motor cortex for left hand. In both hemispheres, e limits anteriorly the first annectant gyrus, a pli de passage of Gratiolet that connects the parietal and occipital lobes, indicated by red arrows (see also Fig. 7). This figure is reproduced with permission from the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
NEW BRUNSWICK, NY, Nov. 16, 2012 - Albert Einstein, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and discoverer of the universe's curvature, the absolute speed limit of light and E= MC2, continues to fascinate people 57 years after his death. In a paper published today in the journal Brain, researchers who have studied newly-discovered photographs taken in 1955 of the famous physicist's brain detail for the first time Einstein's cerebral cortex and compare it to 85 typical brains, highlighting the unique features behind Einstein's genius.

"Although Einstein's brain was of average weight (1230 grams), his cortical anatomy was extraordinary when compared with normal human brains. His exceptional brain anatomy does not begin to explain his towering intellect but our study of brain photographs "lost" from public view for over half a century provides an exciting glimpse into the neural substrate of a genius," said Frederick Lepore, MD, professor of neurology and ophthalmology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Dr. Lepore was co-author of the study along with Dean Falk, PhD, the Hale G. Smith Professor and chair of anthropology at Florida State University and senior scholar at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, N.M., and Adrianne Noe, PhD, director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Md., which holds the 14 images used in the study.

According to the researchers, Einstein's brain was photographed following his death in 1955, and sectioned into 240 celloidin-embedded blocks from which microscope slides were prepared. The great majority of the photographs, blocks, and slides have been unexamined and lost from public sight for more than 55 years.

The study, "The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: A description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs," interprets the unusual features of Einstein's brain, to the extent possible, in light of current functional imaging studies. The paper also publishes the "roadmap," prepared in 1955 to illustrate the locations within Einstein's previously whole brain of 240 dissected blocks of tissue, which provides a key to locating the origins within the brain of the newly emerged histological slides. Interesting cortical features of Einstein's brain are correlated with blocks of the roadmap and therefore with the corresponding histological slides.

Although the overall size and overall asymmetrical shape of Einstein's brain were normal, the prefrontal, somatosensory, primary motor, parietal, temporal and occipital cortices were extraordinary and, as detailed in the paper, may have provided the neurological underpinnings for some of his extraordinary cognitive abilities.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine, (NMHM), a component of the United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, acquired the slides and related archival material (including photographs of the brain before and during block sectioning, labeled diagrams of block sectioning, correspondence, scholarly reprints, popular articles, newspaper clippings, and other documents) from the Estate of Thomas Harvey, MD, in 2010. Harvey was the pathologist originally given permission by Einstein's estate to preserve the brain for scientific study. In concurrence with the mission of the NMHM, the Harvey collection is available upon request for research according to NMHM policy.

The paper (doi:10.1093/brain/aws295) may be found at: http://www.oxfordjournals.org/our_journals/brainj/press_releases/prpaper.pdf

 

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