Combining Technologies: Neuroscience – Real Time Single Cell Resolution Activity Mapping Of The Brain + Transparent Brains
Recently I came across an amazing article about new technology allowing for real time single cell resolution activity mapping of the brain: Whole-brain functional imaging at cellular resolution using light-sheet microscopy by Misha B Ahrens,Michael B Orger,Drew N Robson, Jennifer M Li & Philipp J Keller. The above image is from their work and I find it to be astonishingly beautiful. Every little point of light is a neuron firing. The detail is absolutely mind blowing. We are nothing but our brains, a topic I explored in a previous article When do You stop being You?, so as far as I am concerned that image is one of the best representations of life I have ever seen.
Longer video of the above image:
This amazing technology, as is quite common, has a catch. It requires that the organism have a transparent brain/skull for the light sheet microscopy to work properly. Skull is simple enough, we have been doing cranial windows in mice/rats for a long time. I was lucky enough to perform this procedure a few times in graduate school and as amazing as it is, it really is not all that difficult or complicated. The brain however, was a different ball game. For a long time we could infer what was going on inside the brain through our rapidly advancing imaging technologies or we could remove the brain, freeze everything in place, and then section it for examination. Amazing stuff but not quite the transparency necessary for the technology described in this paper.
Enter Helen Shen and her also recently released paper See-through brains clarify connections: Technique to make tissue transparent offers three-dimensional view of neural networks. Now, I understand that Dr. Shens work was not on living creatures but this is just the beginning. This technique works by stripping away lipids that usually block the passage of light and thus prevent conventional imaging techniques from working. Admittedly stripping the lipids away in a living organism, even if possible, would likely lead to catastrophic damage to brain functioning making activity mapping somewhat undesirable at that point. However, now it is time for refinement. Because we know removing these lipids creates transparent brains now we just need to play around with various methods of modifying these cell components to make them transparent. First thing that comes to mind, transgenic technologies. Once we find the right bits of genetic materials necessary for this we simply need to splice it in and see what happens. Might I suggest taking a look at the various genetic components that contribute towards Zebra fish larva having transparent brains?
Video of Dr. Shen’s work:
I hope you found this inspirational! Have a great day! As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated.