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Neurons: Beyond the Textbook

Explore cell types and how they are defined, and gain a more realistic perspective of neuron morphology

About this lesson:

In this lesson, students will learn about the concept of cell types and how they are defined, gain a more realistic perspective of neuron morphology, and develop a deeper understanding of how neuron features are analyzed. Students will explore neuron morphology using (free, online) software, and will reconstruct neurons that will ultimately be included in a larger dataset. Students will also be guided in exploring Allen Institute for Brain Science’s open Mouse Patch-Seq dataset to see how neurons vary across transcriptomic types and cortical layers, and next steps on how to conduct independent research.

Instructor Guide

Student Guide

This lesson is divided into three sections of increasing difficulty and complexity, which build on each other. Depending on the level of their students and needs of the course, instructors may choose to use only Section 1 (suitable for introductory college neuroscience/ advanced high schoolers), Sections 1 and 2 (suitable for introductory to intermediate college students), or the full lesson of Sections 1-3 (suitable for intermediate to advanced college and graduate students).

The datasets used in this unit come from the Allen Brain Map, a group of open datasets encompassing gene expression in the brain, visual behavior, properties of neurons, neural development, and more. Students will learn what kind of data is collected in research settings and begin learning how it can be used.

Reading and lesson resources:

Man traces neuron on computer


A neuron reconstruction game.

A cellular taxonomy of the mouse visual cortex

Interactive online data visualization.
Diagram showing cell type nomenclature decision tree

Cell Type Nomenclature

Identifying and naming brain cells has been an integral part of neuroscience for a century.

Open data resources:

Allen Brain Map

Open neuroscience data and tools

Cell Feature Search

Explore cell properties and access detailed experimental data

Mouse Patch-Seq dataset

Thousands of specimans.
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Neurons: Beyond the Textbook - Educator Webinar

This webinar for teachers demonstrates how to use our education resource, Neurons: Beyond the Textbook. This lesson is geared towards advanced high school and college students.

Science Programs at Allen Institute