A program that focuses on the scientific study of the structure of the central and peripheral nervous system in vertebrates or the nervous system of invertebrates. Includes instruction in cellular and circuit anatomy, mapping of neuronal pathways, anatomical distribution and mapping of neuronal signaling molecules and their receptors, and the anatomical basis of central nervous system diseases and disorders.

Neuroanatomists work to understand the physical makeup and organization of the brain and nervous system.

Brains are complex, and they are responsible for coordinating so much activity. In order to make sense of this workload, the brain compartmentalizes different functions into its various components. Neuroanatomists have been largely responsible for accumulating our knowledge of the brain's cortexes, hemispheres, lobes, glands, fibers, synapses, and neurons, as well as their interactions and responses to stimuli.

Different areas of the brain have been observed to "light up" in response to different activities; neuroanatomy centers on matching functions to the areas that control them and determining what constitutes normal and abnormal functionality. Not all neuroanatomists focus on human brains - there is particular interest in the neurological structures of primates and invertebrates, which sometimes function in ways surprisingly similar to our own despite structural differences. Some neuroanatomists work with certain conditions, like brain cancers, while others attempt to pin down the role of the nervous system in psychological disorders.

Work in neuroanatomy may include...

  • Studying the physical effects of neurological ailments and disorders
  • Using specialized equipment for research and testing
  • Modeling neurological structures in 3D
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Using imaging and tracing techniques

Most neuroanatomists work in medical research settings, though some take a clinical approach and work directly with patients as physicians, nurses, surgeons, or technicians. Many more can be found in university labs and biotechnology development settings, where they may run tests and develop new applications for anatomical knowledge.

Many of the concepts of neuroanatomy can be applied in a variety of contexts, and there is no single educational path to a career. Students with an interest in neuroanatomy may focus on biology or psychology at the undergraduate level, sometimes as part of a nursing or pre-med track; coursework in biochemistry, cell biology, physiology, and cognitive science is highly recommended. Undergraduate study can provide a broad base of foundational knowledge, but even a four-year Bachelor's degree is rarely enough to qualify a candidate for a career in the field. Graduate study can consist of a Master's program, a research-intensive PhD, or medical school, and graduates of these programs commonly follow up their studies with a medical residency or post-doctoral fellowship to gain further experience outside of school.

Answers to some of our most pressing questions are hidden somewhere in the unique folds of every brain. If you want to take a closer look and see what happens, a career in neuroanatomy could be right for you.

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