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A parts catalog of the brain

October 6, 2014

In order to understand how the brain works, the first crucial step is to understand all the kinds of parts involved. Allen Institute scientists, in collaboration with academic researchers, are putting together the first comprehensive and robust manual of cell types in the mouse brain, and making it publicly accessible to scientists around the world in the form of the Allen Institute Cell Types Database.

The research is funded by a BRAIN Initiative grant from the National Institutes of Health totaling $4.75 million over three years.

Deciphering types of cells and circuits is a major challenge in neuroscience, since no two cells are exactly the same. Cells can be categorized by their genetic expression, shape, size, location in the brain, and even their firing patterns. In order to gain a thorough understanding of cell types, the Allen Institute researchers involved in the grant will collect data on all these different paradigms.

Most importantly, all the data will be combined into the Common Coordinate Framework: a three-dimensional template brain that serves as a standardizing tool for the different types of data collected. Scientists will be able to compare genetic and physiological data, for instance, in meaningful and quantifiable ways. 

As with all Allen Institute projects, the data will be shared publicly – in this case, through the Allen Institute Cell Types Database. The open access database will be the first of its kind to make use of the rigorous quality standards applied to all Allen Institute resources, and to examine cell types using multiple parameters. 

For more details about the grant and the importance of cell types to neuroscience, see our press release.

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