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Brain Structure

Brain Structure Pivotal to Sight “Lost” for 100 Years

Science is known for well, being scientific. Meticulously thought-out processes are documented according to specific sets of rules and regulations. However, it seems as if someone forgot to keep track of a few things. University of Washington Researcher, Jason Yeatman, has rediscovered the vertical occipital fasciculus (VOF), a neural pathway in the brain associated with sight.

Discovered by Carl Wenicke

The vertical occipital fasciculus was originally discovered in 1881 by Carl Wenicke in a monkey brain and later identified in the human brain in 1888. It was seemingly forgotten about after that, but why? And how?

Wenicke, the original discoverer of the VOF, studied under neuroanatomist Theodor Meynert. Meynert theorized that all neural pathways moved horizontally through the brain and cited many of Wenicke’s other discoveries in the brain throughout his tenure. Maybe he was just uninterested in the VOF. Or, perhaps he was unhappy that his student had proved his own mentor’s theory false.

Without direct confirmation from Meynert, one of the leading neuroanatomists of the time, the VOF wasn’t officially named or recognized. For 100 years, some questioned its existence, argued over its function and gave it different names.

Yeatman’s PhD studies at Standford eventually led him to discovering the VOF after recognising it’s potential to be a vital neural pathway. The VOF is the only major fiber bundle connecting dorsolateral and ventrolateral visual cortex, meaning it runs vertically throughout the brain. As it would turn out, the verticality of this nerve bundle could have been the exact reason for its disappearance from medical literature.

Yeatman noted that it connects two regions of the brain: one that is important in perceiving things like someone’s face or being able to read words and the other that helps you to focus in a specific place and move your eyes.

All of this means that the VOF potentially plays a pivotal role in things like recognising your friend’s face as well as being able to read entire written pages quickly and recognise individual words. Its rediscovery is just another piece of the puzzle that is our brain.

Let’s hope they don’t lose it this time.

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