For the First Time, Enormous New 3D Map Traced Every Neuron in Mouse Brain

Researchers used "voxels" — pixels in 3D — to string neurons together, creating the first-ever comprehensive map of a mouse brain.
Brad Bergan

The image looks like a psychedelic Rorschach Test, but it's not: This space-age encounter of the baffling kind is the most exquisite meticulous image of a mouse brain ever seen — mapped to completion for the first time, according to a study recently published in the journal Cell.


Breathtaking 3D map of mouse brain

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a nonprofit based in Seattle committed to neuroscience, have recorded a staggeringly comprehensive map of every brain cell and connection between neurons in mice for the last several years.

The total mouse brain map shows roughly 100 million cells, reports LiveScience.

The project's purpose is to enact the kind of revolution in neuroscience that whole-genome sequencing did for biology in the 1990s — to make a standardized mouse brain for every researcher working on mice to reference.

"In the old days, people would define different regions of the brain by eye. As we get more and more data, that manual curation doesn't scale anymore," said Senior Author of the cell paper and Allen Institute researcher Lydia Ng, in a statement.

Stitching neurons with 'voxes'

Researchers generally trace connections between brain cells with thin slices of tissue that are imaged and investigated via each layer. To create a complete 3D map, the team at the Allen Institute broke down the mouse brain into "voxels" — pixels in 3D — and then mapped the cells through their respective connections in every voxel.

The final 3D map is composed of an "average" of 1,675 laboratory mice, to ensure the map will be as standardized as possible. Mice brains share a similar structure to human brains; they are trainable, breed without effort, and researchers have already developed reliable models of how mice brains work.

The deeper goal is for this map to bring our understanding of brains to a new level, said the Allen Institute, according to Live Science. This will give neuroscientists a means to launch new research programs and move already-active research forward. The Allen Institute researchers also compared its new achievement to the 1990s' efforts to sequence the DNA of various species, for the first time — which subsequently revolutionized biologists' studies.

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