Reid's team, which included Davi Bock, then a graduate student, and postdoctoral researcher Wei-Chung Allen Lee, embarked on a two-part study of the pinpoint-sized region of a mouse brain that is involved in processing vision. They first injected the brain with dyes that flashed whenever specific neurons fired and recorded the firings using a laser-scanning microscope. They then conducted a large anatomy experiment, using electron microscopy to see the same neurons and hundreds of others with nanometer resolution.
Using a new imaging system they developed, the team recorded more than 3 million high-resolution images. They sent them to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center at Carnegie Mellon University, where researchers stitched them into 3-D images. Using the resulting images, Bock, Lee and laboratory technician Hyon Suk Kim selected 10 individual neurons and painstakingly traced many of their connections, crawling through the brain's dense thicket to create a partial wiring diagram.
This model also yielded some interesting insights into how the brain functions. Reid's group found that neurons tasked with suppressing brain activity seem to be randomly wired, putting the lid on local groups of neurons all at once rather than picking and choosing. Such findings are important because many neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, are the result of neural inhibition gone awry.
"This is just the iceberg's tip," said Reid. "Within ten years I'm convinced we'll be imaging the activity of thousands of neurons in a living brain. In a visual circuit, we'll interpret the data to reconstruct what an animal actually sees. By that time, with the anatomical imaging, we'll also know how it's all wired together."
For now, Reid and his colleagues are working to scale up this platform to generate larger data sets.
"How the brain works is one of the greatest mysteri
|Contact: David Cameron|
Harvard Medical School