A line of London taxis

Check the volume

Volume changes in the brain can tell us about disease and ageing

Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) is a type of analysis applied to MRI images when researching certain neurological and psychiatric conditions. It can detect the reduction of hippocampus volume that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease and depression, as well as the thinning of the cerebral cortex that occurs as a normal part of ageing.

Memory researchers in London have been investigating the changes that occur in taxi drivers’ brains as a result of learning. To qualify for the job, London’s taxi drivers have to learn ‘the Knowledge’ (every street name, landmark and direction of traffic flow in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross) so they can navigate the city effectively. Using VBM, the researchers found that those who qualified had an increased volume of grey matter in the hippocampus, a part of the brain known to be involved in generating maps and forming spatial memories. They have also found that the longer a person has been driving a taxi, the larger their hippocampus.

Lead image:

A line of London taxis.

Isaac Bordas/Flickr CC BY


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Inside the Brain’ in January 2013 and reviewed and updated in November 2017.

Inside the Brain
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development