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Cubic millimetre of brain mapped in spectacular detail

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2024-05-09 22:00:09

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Rendering based on electron-microscope data, showing the positions of neurons in a fragment of the brain cortex. Neurons are coloured according to size. Credit: Google Research & Lichtman Lab (Harvard University). Renderings by D. Berger (Harvard University)

Researchers have mapped a tiny piece of the human brain in astonishing detail. The resulting cell atlas, which was described today in Science1 and is available online, reveals new patterns of connections between brain cells called neurons, as well as cells that wrap around themselves to form knots, and pairs of neurons that are almost mirror images of each other.

The 3D map covers a volume of about one cubic millimetre, one-millionth of a whole brain, and contains roughly 57,000 cells and 150 million synapses — the connections between neurons. It incorporates a colossal 1.4 petabytes of data. “It’s a little bit humbling,” says Viren Jain, a neuroscientist at Google in Mountain View, California, and a co-author of the paper. “How are we ever going to really come to terms with all this complexity?”

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