Thursday, 18 July 2013

See-through brain?

The brain is, understandably, a popular topic for research. Traditionally researchers wishing to study the brain have had to use invasive and time-consuming methods of cutting it up. However, recently a team lead by Dr Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University has developed a method to make brains transparent, allowing them to be studied without having to be sliced up. The process can also be used with other organs, "revolutionising the three-dimensional study of important organs within the body".

The brain is surrounded by lipids that help form the membranes around the cells and bind the tissues together. This membrane blocks the view into the brain. The revolutionary new process referred to as CLARITY replaces the lipids with a clear gel, which preserves the tissues while revealing the internal structure of the brain. The gel is injected into the organ and is absorbed into the tissue. The lipids are then removed, while the rest of the brain remains intact, leaving the neurons, axons, dendrites, proteins and synapses in place and able to be viewed.

Previously these structures could only be seen following the brain being sliced up, and only across tiny slivers of tissue. Researchers then needed to reconstruct three-dimensional data from images of these thin slices to form a three dimensional view of the brain.

Using CLARITY scientists can then use fluorescent proteins and neuro-imaging to see neuronal connections, subcellular structures, proteins, nucleic acids and how cells interact and relate to each other. This opens up the possibility of viewing large networks of neurons with unprecedented ease and accuracy.

The procedure has already been used to investigate the nerves in the post-mortem brain of an autistic boy. They noticed unusual patterns in the neurons, which is likely to help advance the understanding of autism.

We at ANTS look forward to hearing more about how this procedure can be used for advancing our understanding of various neurological and neuropsychological conditions.

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