Officially, the atlas has been published in a stand-alone issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology, but the Allen Human Brain Reference Atlas is also available as a free resource on the institute's website. It's more than a handful of MRIs -- the institute put a 34-year old donor brain through magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging before methodically cutting it into slabs to perform histological staining specific regions. This data was all recorded, imaged, digitized and mapped to create an atlas with 862 annotated structures. That mouthful, in other words, means the group has put together a comprehensive, high-resolution map of the human brain that scientists can reference during research.
Perhaps as important as the work itself is the way in which it is presented. "The Allen Human Brain Reference Atlas represents a further departure from the classical atlases in its innovative publication format," explained Patrick Hof, M.D. in the Atlas' announcement. "It is the only brain atlas to date to combine the rigor of a peer-reviewed scientific research paper with a presentation as a book format that includes the full set of annotated plates, open-access online availability of the resource with the ability to navigate and explore the details of any given area, and have programmatic access to the underlying data."
The project helps bring human brain atlas' to a new standard -- bringing it closer to the comprehensive brain maps scientists had for worms, mice and other smaller creatures. With any luck, the atlas will provide researchers with the tools needed to better understand our most important organ.