Defining and characterizing the cell types  and connections that make up our brains and how they change in disease
Defining and characterizing the cell types and connections that make up our brains and how they change in disease

The Allen Institute for Brain Science is the Allen Institute’s oldest scientific division, established in 2003, and has generated several foundational data resources for the neuroscience community, exploring the brain at the level of gene expression, connectivity, and, most recently, individual cell types and synapses. The Allen Institute for Brain Science is currently focused on defining and understanding the cell types of the mammalian brain to ultimately better understand brain development, evolution and disease. We are working toward a complete parts list of brain cell types, how those cell types connect and function in the brain, and what changes happen to cells in the aging brain and in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

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News from the Allen Institute for Brain Science

Press Release

Allen Institute announces 2021 Next Generation Leaders

November 8, 2021

Six early-career neuroscientists will participate in unique advisory council for the Institute

Press Release

An ultra detailed map of the brain region that controls movement, from mice to monkeys to humans

October 6, 2021

Hundreds of neuroscientists built a ‘parts list’ of the motor cortex, laying groundwork to map the whole brain and better understand brain diseases

Research Highlights

See research Highlights from the MindScope Program.

Building a “periodic table” of brain cell types

Our researchers are working to define the “parts list” of the brain by cataloging the different types of neurons and other brain cells in the human and mouse brains. Research teams are studying the brain cells’ detailed shapes, their electrical properties and the suite of genes each individual cell turns on and off, all different properties which can define a distinct brain cell type. Because so many neurological diseases afflict only certain types of brain cells, this catalog will help researchers develop tools to better study and ultimately target treatments to those cell types. Data from these coordinated research teams make up the Allen Cell Types Database.

Allen Cell Types Database

The brain's wiring map

To understand the brain, we need to understand not only its building blocks, the cells, but how those building blocks fit together and interact with one another. Our researchers are working to define the mouse brain’s “microscale connectome,” the 3D map of how neurons connect to each other. In a collaboration with research teams at Princeton University and Baylor College of Medicine, funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA, Allen Institute for Brain Science researchers are using a technique known as electron microscopy to map the billion synapses present in a cubic millimeter of brain from the mouse visual cortex, a piece about the size of a grain of sand. When it’s complete, this will be the largest piece of brain ever mapped at such detail. Access data via the newly launched MICrONS Explorer: A virtual observatory of the cortex.


Reading the activity of live human brain cells in the lab

Thanks to a unique collaboration with Seattle-area neurosurgeons, Allen Institute for Brain Science researchers are exploring the electrical properties of live human neurons. These precious cells come from patients who undergo brain surgery for epilepsy or brain tumors and agree to donate the small pieces of healthy tissue that have to be removed in the course of surgery. Our researchers are uncovering subtle but potentially important differences between human and mouse neurons of the same type, and are even exploring the properties of human neurons that have no rodent counterparts.