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SciShots: A quartet of brain cells

Scientists are sifting through the hundreds of thousands of brain cells present in a cubic millimeter of mouse brain

Featuring Rachel Tompa

05.20.2022

1 min read

Neuroscientists have recently created a treasure trove: a dataset containing the complete 3D structures and connections from a cubic millimeter-sized chunk of mouse brain. Now, scientists at the Allen Institute — who were part of the collaborative effort to map this piece of brain — are sifting through the 200,000 cells present in that dataset to make new insights about their shapes, functions and patterns of connections. JoAnn Buchanan, an Allen Institute neuroscientist, is mining the dataset for cells known as glia — a class of brain cells historically thought of as “support cells” to neurons, but which play many important and still mysterious roles. In this image Buchanan captured, three different kinds of glia cluster around an inhibitory neuron (in turquoise), a kind of neuron that inhibits activity in other neurons. Buchanan and her colleagues are studying the interaction between two of these kinds of glia, a microglia (shown in purple) and an oligodendrocyte precursor cell (pink). Oligodendrocyte precursor cells give rise to oligodendrocytes (the gold cell in this image) through division and microglia are scavenger cells of the brain, cleaning up unwanted cells and other material. Buchanan speculates that the microglia may have been hanging around to consume the precursor cell at the moment the scientists captured their structures.

Microscopic viewpoints, computer-generated models, intricate tracings and more — see a new side of science with SciShots

About the author: Rachel Tompa

Rachel Tompa is a science and health writer and editor. A former molecular biologist, she’s been telling science stories since 2007 and has covered the gamut of science topics, including the microbiome, the human brain, pregnancy, evolution, science policy and infectious disease. As Senior Editor at the Allen Institute, Rachel writes stories and creates podcast episodes covering all the Institute’s scientific divisions.

Get in touch at [email protected].