Human Brain, Brain Cells, Jeff Lichtman, Cellular Structure, Axons

Human Brain, Brain Cells

'Like a bowl of spaghetti': New map details intricacies of the brain

A map of a fragment of a human brain reveals for the first time its astonishing intricacy, while providing new evidence of both the brain's physical structure

6/15/2021 11:15:00 PM

The map is the culmination of years of work by scientists to trace the vast network of cells and connections within the sample, which was taken roughly a decade ago from the brain of a patient undergoing surgery to prevent serious epileptic seizures.

A map of a fragment of a human brain reveals for the first time its astonishing intricacy, while providing new evidence of both the brain's physical structure

The map is the culmination of years of work by scientists to trace the vast network of cells and connections within the sample, which was taken roughly a decade ago from the brain of a patient undergoing surgery to prevent serious epileptic seizures.Although the sample is just a tiny fraction of an inch across — about half the size of a sesame seed — it contains more than 50,000 brain cells, or neurons, and roughly 130 million of the thread-like axons that transmit signals between them. But it's only about a millionth of the volume of an entire human brain, which is estimated to consist of about 100 billion cells.

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The interactive map can be explored in detail through the, which was developed for the purpose of displaying complex images of brain tissue.It's now possible to see the different ways that the multitudes of neurons and axons of the human brain are connected by effectively making the tissues that surround them invisible and revealing the dense networks within.

"You can think of the brain like a bowl of spaghetti," said Dr. Jeff Lichtman, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, who headed the project. "We sliced it into very thin images and then traced each strand of pasta." headtopics.com

The Neuroglancer interface can be accessed and explored by anyone."When you get to look at things that you couldn't have seen before, it gives you an opportunity to start thinking about things in ways that go beyond your imagination," he said. "It provides us with views of a world that was alien to us … we're now beginning to see what it looks like."

The sample was taken from the temporal lobe of the patient's neocortex, an outer region of the brain's "gray matter" associated with hearing and memory. After it was surgically removed, he and his colleagues preserved it in a type of resin and stained it with heavy metals to reveal its cellular structure. They then used an automated diamond knife to cut the sample into more than 5,000 slices, each a thousand times thinner than a human hair, and made images of them with an electron microscope. The images were processed by artificial intelligence and "proofread" by human experts to map all the neurons and axons in 3D and in color — resulting in the largest dataset created for medical imaging, Lichtman said.

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