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The Holy Grail to Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain?

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The human brain remains one of the most mysterious organs in the human body. However, an imaging technique tested on mice brains and developed by a group of researchers including from Harvard, MIT, and Boston University, may bring them one step closer to unlocking the secrets of the human brain. Their results were published yesterday in the journal, Cell.

The approach will allow scientists to see the brain’s beautifully layered 3D structure on the nanoscale with different colors to separate and distinguish cell types. They first created the 3D structure of a mouse dendrite by combining electron microscope (EM) images of the brain structure together. Then, they achieved the color differentiation using VAST, an annotation tool–developed at Harvard by a co-author of this study–that allows users to manually add color to EM images. This is the first time VAST was used to create color images of the brain.

The point of this study was simply to see what could be learned from seeing the brain, anatomized into its parts using different colors. But going forward, the researchers think this tool could be used to see what a neurological disorder actually looks like in the brain and how the human brain differs from that of other animals as well as how individual human brains differ from each other.

“The complexity of the brain is much more than what we had ever imagined,” said Narayanan “Bobby” Kasthuri, of the Boston University School of Medicine. “We had this clean idea of how there’s a really nice order to how neurons connect with each other, but if you actually look at the material it’s not like that. The connections are so messy that it’s hard to imagine a plan to it, but we checked and there’s clearly a pattern that cannot be explained by randomness.”

“We’re getting an opportunity to peer into something that has remained somewhat intractable for so long,” said Jeff Lichtman, of Harvard University. “We are certainly far from being out of the surprise element.

The video shows a beautiful animated reconstruction of a sub-volume of mouse neocortex with cellular and subcellular components. To fully enjoy the 3D graphics, the authors suggest to choose the highest quality video option.

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“The Holy Grail to Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain?”