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IPFS News Link • Science, Medicine and Technology

Imaging tool lets scientists look inside brain at nanoscale resolution


The human brain contains more synapses than there are galaxies in the observable universe (to put a number on it, there are perhaps 100 trillion synapses versus 100 billion galaxies), and now scientists can see them all – individually. A new imaging tool promises to open the door to all sorts of new insights about the brain and how it works. The tool can generate images at a nanoscale resolution, which is small enough to see all cellular objects and many of their sub-cellular components (so for the biology-literate, that's stuff like neurons and the synapses that permit them to fire, plus axons, dendrites, glia, mitochondria, blood vessel cells, and so on).

The universe-like depth and complexity of the human brain can now be studied in excruciating detail thanks to a new imaging technology  Zoomed in further from the previous image, the cylindrical object in the middle of this image is a 3D reconstruction of the area imaged for the demonstration A 3D reconstruction of all of the excitatory axons in the area around two apical dendrites A 3D reconstruction of all of the objects in the area around two apical dendrites, including multiple kinds of axons, dendrites, and glial cells

To demonstrate their new tool, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard University peered inside the brain of an adult mouse. They imaged a very small piece of a mouse's neocortex at a resolution that made individual synaptic vesicles visible (these are tiny spheres of less than 40 nm diameter that store neurotransmitters, or chemical signals, for release from a synapse into a "target" neuron). The specific area they imaged is involved in receiving sensory information from mouse whiskers, which are much more sensitive than human fingertips.