Allen Institute for Brain Science’s 2018 year in review

December 20, 2018

From a ‘parts list’ of cell types in the cortex to new clues about the biology of the human brain to the genetic roots of brain disorders, it’s been a banner year for research at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a division of the Allen Institute. Read on for some highlights from 2018:

A catalog of brain cell types

undefinedIn October, Allen Institute for Brain Science researchers published a major step toward better understanding the brain through sorting its building blocks, the cells, into distinct cell types. The study, published on the cover of Nature, used gene activity to categorize cells from the mouse cortex into 133 distinct types and laid the groundwork to uncover the functions of two newly discovered types of motor neurons. Read more in our press release.

New clues about what makes the human brain tick

undefinedAllen Institute for Brain Science researchers made several findings about what the differences between human and rodent neurons, part of a larger effort to better understand the human brain. Together with researchers from the University of Szeged, they identified a new type of human brain cell, dubbed the rosehip neuron, which has not been seen in rodents and other well-studied laboratory animals.

Using live human tissue donated by patients undergoing brain surgery, they found that one kind of human neuron sends and receives electrical signals in a different way than its mouse counterpart. And they found that unlike rodent brains, this human tissue, donated by patients who are undergoing surgery for epilepsy or brain tumors, can stay alive in the lab for three days, a finding that enables cutting-edge experiments on live human neurons.

Partnerships to better understand the brain

undefinedA new collaboration between the Allen Institute for Brain Science and Southeast University in Nanjing, China, announced in November, is tackling the difficult problem of capturing mouse neurons’ shapes in their entirety, cell by cell, from whole brains. And in July, the Allen Institute for Brain Science announced OpenScope, a new project to give researchers around the world access to the Institute’s “observatory of the mind” to study the activity of thousands of neurons in the visual cortex of the mouse.

The roots of brain disorders

undefinedTwo collaborative studies published this year shed new light on the brain cell types and stages of development linked to neurological and psychiatric diseases. One study, published earlier this month, traced how genes turn on and off in the human brain as it develops, from weeks after conception to adulthood, and how some of those genes play roles in the genesis of major brain disorders. Another, published in May, identified three types of neurons that are most tightly linked to the genes that drive schizophrenia.

Research impact

Allen Institute for Brain Science resources continue to drive discovery throughout the research community. This year, we profiled three projects that used data from the Allen Brain Observatory, a large-scale approach to understanding the brain in action by watching neurons fire in real time, to make new findings about the visual area of the mouse brain. See how Stanford University electrical engineering student Amy Christensen used this data in her work below, and find our other recent Data Stories video profiles here.

Earlier this month, the Allen Institute hosted the annual Showcase Symposium, which featured research from the Allen Institute for Brain Science and from current Next Generation Leaders. And in November, Allen Institute for Brain Science researchers presented several talks and posters at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience meeting, as well as hosting a dynamic booth and two satellite workshops.

For more 2018 highlights from the Allen Institute, read our recaps from the Allen Institute for Cell Science, The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, Institute-wide highlights and our 2018 Annual Report.

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