Scientists build subcellular map of entire brain networks

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have developed an imaging technique to capture information about the structure and function of brain tissue at subcellular level — a few billionth of a metre, while also capturing information about the surrounding environment.

The unique approach detailed in Nature Communications today (25 May), overcomes the challenges of imaging tissues at different scales, allowing scientists to see the surrounding cells and how they function, so they can build a complete picture of neural networks in the brain.

Various imaging methods are used to capture information about tissue, cells and subcellular structures. However, a single method can only capture information about either the structure or function of the tissue and looking in detail at a nanometre scale means scientists lose information about the wider surroundings. This means that to gain an overall understanding of the tissue, imaging techniques need to be combined.

In their study, the scientists developed an approach which combines seven imaging methods, including in vivo imaging, synchrotron X-ray, and volume electron microscopy. They demonstrated their approach by imaging two different areas of the brain in mice — the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus.

Importantly, the technique could be applied to other areas of the brain or parts of the body, providing scientists with a more detailed understanding of many different biological structures and tissues.

Each step of the imaging process provides different information. Firstly, the researchers used in vivo calcium imaging to visualise neurons in specific regions of the brain and see which neurons were active when the mice were exposed to odours.

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