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Through the 20th century, neuroscientists gradually tracked particular brain functions to specific regions. Sadly, the most efficient way to determine such a linkage was to find a patient with an injury to a specific region of his brain, and then to establish which of the patient's faculties were impaired.
One of these patients was H.M., an epileptic who went under the surgeon's knife at the age of 27--the doctors stopped his seizures, but they also cut into a brain region called the hippocampus and inadvertently destroyed his ability to form new memories. For the rest of his life, until he died in 2008 at the age of 82, he could only hold a thought for about 20 seconds. Yet H.M. could clearly remember things from before his surgery, and could also form new "motor memories"--for example, after many repetitions he performed a difficult drawing task with ease, but had no memory of doing it before. Such results helped researchers understand the role of the hippocampus, which is shown in cross-section at the bottom half of this 2005 image.
We have luminescent jellyfish to thank for one advance in neuroscience. By sticking the genetic code for the jellyfish's green fluorescent protein in cells, researchers made them glow green (a neat trick that won the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry). Most importantly, this could be done in living animals and tissues, allowing researchers to watch neurons in action. To sort out the tangle of brain cells, molecular chemists next searched out fluorescent proteins in other colors, and found innovative ways to make neurons glow in slightly different hues.
This "brainbow" image traces the long axons of individual neurons in a gorgeous array of colors. The image, produced in 2007, shows motor neuron axons stretching away to the muscles they control.