This picture of a human brain with no folds or ridges offers insight into a condition which is both fascinating and disturbing.
A neurological issue known as lissencephaly caused the severe malformation seen in this image of a brain. The organ belonged to a patient of North Texas State Hospital, a mental institution in Vernon, U.S.A. The sample has been jarred in the hospital’s cold store since 1970 when it was removed (post-mortem).
The jar’s label is still in legible condition but the accompanying microfilm has been lost over the decades. The label identifies the brain’s condition as agyria – a lack of gyri and sulci, the ridges and folds formed on the normally wrinkled cerebral cortex.
Professor David Dexter, who runs the Parkinson’s UK Tissue Bank at Imperial College London, commented on the severity of the malformation of this particular specimen: “We do get the odd individual where certain sulci are missing but nothing to the extent of this brain.” The institute receives brains from deceased donors that sometimes appear flattened in some regions but it is very rare for such a deformity to encompass the entire organ.
Lissencephaly, which literally means “smooth brain”, is a gene-linked brain malformation that arises during week 20 of the human gestation period. Those born with it suffer symptoms ranging from muscle spasms to seizures, and will almost certainly be born with severe learning retardation.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) continues to conduct research involving lissencephaly. Recent studies have identified genes that are responsible for the malformation which could one day lead to preventative treatments.