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The brain's connectome -- from branch to branch
Date:7/28/2011

er 70 students from Heidelberg University, they reconstructed a network of over 100 neurons from the retina in full detail.

The students used the KNOSSOS software developed by the team in Heidelberg to trace the connections between the neurons. It is no coincidence that the program is named after Crete's legendary palace, renowned for its elaborate labyrinth: "Tracing the connections in the brain is at least as hard as finding your way out of a mythological labyrinth", explains Moritz Helmstaedter.

In order to reconstruct a neural circuit, researchers start by staining the neurons of a section of tissue with heavy metals to make them visible. Using three-dimensional electron microscope images, they start at the cell body and follow the dendrites and axons, marking the branch point nodes on the screen. Then they use the computer to generate a three-dimensional image of the section. In this way, they work their way through the tangle of neurons bit by bit. It is a tedious undertaking: One person working alone with the currently available programs would take at least 30 years to reconstruct a path of 30 centimetres in length. Besides, these procedures are prone to error, since the branch points are not always easily recognised and the annotator's attentiveness decreases with time.

The KNOSSOS software considerably reduces the time required: It is about 50 times faster than other programs used up to now. In addition, the RESCOP program now makes it possible for dozens of people to work on the reconstruction at the same time. Since the method is easily learned, even non-experts can use it. Most of the students worked from home and sent their results to the scientists via e-mail. The scientists were able to establish that the error rate of the best students was no higher than that of experienced neurobiologists. Moreover, its sophisticated algorithms enable RESCOP to detect and average out inaccuracies. This means that the reconstruction is
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Contact: Dr. Moritz Helmstaedter
moritz.helmstaedter@mpimf-heidelberg.mpg.de
49-622-148-6149
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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