Automated Mapping of the Whole Brain

The three-dimensional mapping of an individual brain has traditionally been a tedious, complicated process, often taking an experienced technician nearly a week to process a single brain. But a new technique developed by a team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) promises to reduce the time needed to mere hours and to largely automate the process.

Using traditional confocal methods, a technician would have to manually select each section of the brain and scan it with a high-resolution microscope. The new technology, called Serial Two-Photon Tomography (STP tomography) integrates mapping and image assembly software with robotic scanning equipment to standardize the procedure, to make it easily repeatable, and to relieve the process of the need for human oversight. In addition, the two-photon method yields higher resolutions at greater scanning depths.

Already in use at some biology labs, STP tomography typically uses fluorescent biomarkers to highlight and illuminate certain areas of the brain, or specific cells or structures. The slice-by-slice images from the scanner microscope are compiled by a computer to build a three dimensional wireframe which can be move and manipulated to examine different areas in detail.

One of the first areas where this new technology will find practical application is in the ongoing study of mouse brains. As models of human brain structure, mouse brains can be easily manipulated through genetic engineering and their small size makes them easier to process for 3D mapping. Even so, a human preparer might spend five or six days on one brain. This task can be completed by the robotic STP scanner in 6.5 to 8.5 hours.

The ability to quickly scan brains in this way will speed up the research time for diseases with a structural, neural component, such as schizophrenia or autism. Because more brains can be analyzed in the same timeframe, it will also open up the possibility of testing more structural aberrations at once, meaning smaller labs can undertake large-scale studies that were once the domain only of the biggest institutions.

Source: Medical News Today

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