"Brainbows" Illuminate the Mind's Wiring

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(Related: "New Mouse Teeth, Whiskers Grown From Handful of Cells" [February 26, 2007].)

Shape Matters

Ed Lein is director of neuroscience at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington.

The Harvard researchers, he said, have essentially developed a novel technique that allows one to look at the shape of many different neurons simultaneously.

"The shape of the neuron is a pretty powerful piece of information. It allows you to infer, and in some cases demonstrate, who that cell is connected to," Lein said. " It lets you look at detailed microcircuitry in the brain."

The technique, he explained, will help researchers look at the shape of cells during embryo development and postnatal development in real time—and perhaps understand the progression of disease.

"It is too difficult to trace the 'wires' of the brain, because they are so thin and it is easy to make mistakes," said Sebastian Seung, a computational neuroscientist at MIT.

"The brainbow technique makes it easier to trace them."

(Related: "First Ever Brain 'Atlas' Completed" [September 26, 2006].)

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