I have seen the spinal cord and it's a white, soft, slippery cylinder that has a small diameter (about 25-30 milimeters). It absolutely doesn't have a macroscopocally reticular texture that would allow us to track down individual pathways. Same goes for the brain, it's also not macroscopically reticular and yet we know a lot of connections inside the brain.

So what's the technique used to discover these neural pathways and the information about in which parts of the pathway are synapses located?

Example of what we know is here under the "Major neural pathways" title.

  • $\begingroup$ Check this out. $\endgroup$
    – user22020
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 1:06

1 Answer 1


There are are few ways this can be done.

One important example, is case of Phineas Cage who's accident lead to severe brain damage. This changed his behavior, which allowed scientist to connect physiology with behavior. Namely, left frontal lobe damage caused change in personality, without significant change in other important behaviors such as memory.

Same way we can look on naturally occurred brain damage via modern imaging techniques (X-ray, CT, MRI, fMRI) and connect those to behavioral abnormalities.

We can also learn about neural substrate of behavior by experimenting in the lab: by looking at effects of tissue damage. Basically, you ask "what happens if we damage this part of the brain". This way we can figure out parts of brain that regulate different parts of sleep by dissecting animal's brain stem in different regions.

Another option is to "look" at brain while it functions and detect important active regions. Here you can use any number of techniques: fMRI, EEG, direct electrode probing of brain regions, or in animals optical calcium imaging. Point is that in these experiments you ask (or make) your subjects to perform behavior X and see how and where that behavior activates neurons.

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    $\begingroup$ You are answering a rather different question than what the OP asked. For example how is any of this related to how we discovered the corticospinal tract, which is in the link of major pathways that the OP provided? I think the OP is looking for information on the anatomical methods used and not so much on links between anatomy and behavior. $\endgroup$
    – vkehayas
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 13:21

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