How to Rapidly Image Entire Brains at Nanoscale Resolution

January 17, 2019
Hertz Staff

The astounding complexity of the fruit fly is on full display in the videos below, generated by a team led by Hertz Fellow Ed Boyden and Nobel Laureate Erik Betzig. The images represent a leap forward in the quest to do what Boyden calls “solve the brain”: to understand precisely how electrical impulses in our brain cells turn from ephemeral thoughts to action.

These processes depend on the connections between the many, many neurons in the brain, so when scientists announced two years ago that they had imaged every cell in the fruit fly brain, it was a first step towards mapping out the stage on which the behavior of animals – from flies to humans – takes shape. But the 2017 process requires painstakingly slicing thin layers off the brain and imaging it piece by piece, making it too slow to process enough brains to understand their full variety and function.

Boyden and Betzig’s team have accelerated the process by physically inflating the samples – a technique developed in Boyden’s lab called expansion microscopy – and then imaging them in one shot with Betzig’s cutting-edge microscopes. This process creates a detailed map of the brain in a matter of days, far reduced from the months or years the slicing technique takes.

This makes the dream of charting and comparing brains the size of a fruit fly’s, or larger, that much closer to reality. “We’ve crossed a threshold in imaging performance,” says Boyden.

Read More: via Howard Hughes Medical Institutes