Connectomic approaches before the connectome

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Connectome is a term with a short history but a long past. Since the origins of neuroscience the concept of a ‘map of neural connections’ has been a constant inspiring idea for those who believed the brain as the organ of intellect. A myriad of proto-connectome maps have been produced throughout the centuries, each one reflecting the theory and method of investigation that prevailed at the time. Even contemporary definitions of the connectome rest upon the formulation of a neuronal theory that has been proposed over a hundred years ago. So, what is new? In this article we attempt to trace the development of certain anatomical and physiological concepts at the origins of modern definitions of the connectome. We argue that compared to previous attempts current connectomic approaches benefit from a wealth of imaging methods that in part could justify the enthusiasm for finally succeeding in achieving the goal. One of the unique advantages of contemporary approaches is the possibility of using quantitative methods to define measures of connectivity where structure, function and behaviour are integrated and correlated. We also argue that many contemporary maps are inaccurate surrogates of the true anatomy and a comprehensive connectome of the human brain remains a far distant point in the history to come.

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