SEP 10, 2019 3:06 PM PDT

Neuroscientists create a stunning digital map of 1,000 neurons

WRITTEN BY: Nina Lichtenberg

Two years ago, Dr. Jayaram Chandrashekar and his colleagues at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus sought out to map the mouse brain as intricately as possible. Now, they have unraveled more than 1,000 neurons by tracing each cell’s branch (called an axon) all the way to the next cells in line that these cells connect to. If laid end to end, neurons would stretch more than 85 meters – nearly the length of a soccer field, the team reports in the journal Cell.

When researchers began their brain mapping project, neuroscientists had a general idea of how each brain region was connected, but the actual structure of neural pathways remained unknown. A detailed picture of the neural circuits in a rodent brain can help scientists better understand how to brain is wired, and inform how different types of cells communicate with one another. In 2017, the neuron-tracing project, called MouseLight, mapped the first 300 neurons. Now, they’ve added another 700 cells.

“It’s by far the largest digital collection of such neurons,” says Chandrashekar.

Researches use the latest neural tracing technology to map cells. First, they inject a virus that can target specific cells to make them light up. Next, a fluorescence microscope is used to make these cells glow, and high-resolution images of the stunning neurons are captured. A computer program then stitches nearly 20,000 images together to make a 3-D map of the brain. These tools are powerful and fast – currently, it only takes one day to trace a single neuron. A few years ago, it took over a week.

"It's like putting together 20,000 Lego blocks," Chandrashekar says.

A high-resolution image of neurons sending long-range axonal branches across the mouse brain.

Photo credit: MouseLight/ Janelia Research Campus

Despite advances in brain mapping, much of the mouse brain – which contains about 70,000 neurons – is uncharted territory. Dr. Karl Svoboda, group leader at Janelia, estimates that you’d need to trace 100,000 neurons to get even a crude view of an entire brain map.

The MouseLight team has focused on a few key brain areas: the motor cortex, the hypothalamus, and the thalamus, to name a few. They even found previously unidentified types of cells within these brain regions based on the shape of the cells’ branches. The project is moving forward quickly, and the team has shared their impressive dataset online so that other scientists can benefit from and join their neural cartography effort.

Source: ScienceDaily, HHMI News

About the Author
You May Also Like
NOV 06, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
NOV 06, 2019
Opioid Addiction Can be Controlled Using an In-Brain Chip Technology: First U.S. Clinical Trial
Opioid addiction is a long-lasting (chronic) disease that can cause major health, social, and economic problems. Opioids are a class of drugs that act...
NOV 30, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 30, 2019
Depression is Not Caused By Genetics
Since the discovery of DNA, attributing the cause of illnesses to genetic reasons became trendy. Depression was no exception- with hundreds of studies havi...
DEC 20, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 20, 2019
Does Having Herpes Increase Your Risk for Alzheimer's?
Around 44 million people around the world have Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive form of dementia that leads to memory loss and a decline in cogniti...
DEC 25, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 25, 2019
Air Pollution Linked to Depression and Suicide
Living amid high levels of air pollution increases one’s risk of developing depression and commiting suicide, says new research from University Colle...
DEC 20, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 20, 2019
Hand-Motion Center of the Brain Involved in Speech
During a long-term study focused on improving computer-assistant interfaces for quadriplegia patients, researchers at Stanford University were able to use...
JAN 25, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 25, 2020
Are You Still Working on Your New Year's Resolution?
There are a few cardinal rules when it comes to goal-setting, and you've probably heard them all before. Goals will be successful if they are specific-...
Loading Comments...