Matthias Kaschube of Princeton University and his collaborators have applied concepts from pattern formation and continuum dynamics to address a key question in neuroscience: Do neurons retain their roles in a growing brain? Although an adult human’s brain is four times as large as a baby human’s, it has roughly the same number of neurons. The extra volume accommodates the developed brain’s greater number of blood vessels, nonneuronal cells, and—crucially for memory and intelligence—interneuron connections. To understand the development of those connections, Kaschube and others study ocular dominance (the brain’s preference for input from one eye over the other) in the primary visual cortex (the brain’s principal image processor). Several factors make OD a convenient model system. Not only are OD signals readily induced and tracked; the neurons responsible for OD are grouped in recognizable rows of columns, like picket fences. Data gathered from kittens by Kaschube’s collaborators—Karl-Friedrich Schmidt and...

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