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Why create pictures of brain neurons / Blog of the company Mail.Ru Group / SurprizingFacts

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Art and science rarely intersect. When this happens, and applied research, understood only by specialists, is enriched with visual images, science gets more attention of the inhabitants. Compare yourself: brain research around the world is conducted every day, but graphs, diagrams and X-rays do not cause strong emotions. However, as soon as colorful pictures appear that illustrate the impact on the brain, the news gets a big response. Outside the context of scientific discoveries, we simply like to look at the work of internal organs, it is especially interesting to monitor the functioning of the hemispheres responsible for thinking.

Cartography of the Brain

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] Mouse Brain Connector

Scientists from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle created a map that details the relationships between mouse brain cells. Before the creation of this kind of paintings would not have thought of any artist – the researchers injected a fluorescent green virus into a certain area of ​​the brain of a living mouse. The virus infected the neurons near the injection site, and three weeks later spread throughout the brain. As a result, the map of the interconnections occurring in one area of ​​the brain was displayed as a green fluorescent mesh of infected neurons.

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Even "normal" brain maps are impressive. Scientists from the University of California at Berkeley have developed an interactive map that shows where the values ​​of certain words are stored, and how words and their meanings are related.

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Neurobiologists from the Allen Institute, Harvard Medical School and NERF (research project in the field of neuroelectronics) published the largest three-dimensional map of neural networks of the cerebral cortex in the world. The development of the map took more than ten years: the researchers analyzed colossal data sets on brain activity, and this allowed establishing the relationship between the structure and functions of the brain.

To create a mouse brain map, horizontal and vertical lines were displayed in front of their eyes – Neurons responded to these visual signals. Then, ultrathin sections of the brain were made. This allowed to obtain numerous images of neurons and synapses that were used in the creation of the 3D model.

The Brain as the most important mystery

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] There is still no complete map of the human brain. There are several approaches to solving this problem. One way is to decipher the ways in which electrical signals travel between neurons, when the brain performs certain functions. The problem is that every slice of fifty billionth of a meter thick has to be carefully photographed with an electron microscope, and then programmatically try to restore the connections between neurons one by one.

The process takes a very long time, but there are ways to speed it up. For example, you can use a variety of colors that allow you to label color different neurons and connections to make them more visible. In the EyeWire project, any user in the game format is offered to colorize the neural connections in the picture with real retinal neurons shot with an electron microscope. That's how science achieves progress through gaming.

Canvas and colors of neural connections

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Graduate of the Department of Neuroscience of the University of Pennsylvania Greg Dann removed from Equation of scientific search and concentrated on the visual component. He began to paint neurons in the style of Japanese watercolor painting Sumi-E (this is a kind of monochrome painting, which traditionally contains only two colors).

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Column structure of the cortex of the head Brain. Gold, ink, developer, mica on the aluminum panel

Dunn first studies the real image of neurons, then transfers the basic outlines to paper and begins to create a picture. To more accurately convey the characteristics of neural network structures, the artist uses the ink spraying on non-absorbent paper. At the same time, he improvises more and does not copy the real image – it is extremely difficult to achieve the same ornate structure if one simply copies the original image.

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Buried and pyramidal neurons In which upward a large apical dendrite leads, there is one axon going down, and a number of basal dendrites) in the motor cortex of the brain. Ink on 22 karat gold

If you blow on a drop of ink, the patterns of its spreading on the surface will be random, depending on air twists, paper shapes, microscopic obstacles – the branches in the drawings are the same as the real branches Nerve cells.

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Scheme of the cortex of the cerebral hemispheres. Engraving with gold on steel

In this work, Dunn transferred the image to metal using the method of photolithography. The engraving was covered with gold leaf. The technique allows to etch copies of cellular microstructures in the thinnest gold plates, each of which reflects light at a certain angle.

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The basis of these works was the technique of brain imaging, a rainbow, in which fluorescent proteins are used to color related neurons. The figures show the variation of the hippocampus brainbone coloration (the key structure of adult neurogenesis) in four colors.

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If you look at the hippocamuses in various scientific works, you can compare the levels of visualization of objects. Here the hippocampus (left) and the whole mouse brain (right), painted entirely. In the depiction of the hippocampus, dividing cells are designated red. Pink – olfactory bulb, purple – subventricular zone and rostral migratory path, orange – hippocampus, yellow – cerebellum surface.

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Most of Dunn's work is devoted to neurons, however He pays attention to other cells. In the picture above, you see a picture of the spinal cord.

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The cerebellum. Gold, paint, enamel on the aluminized panel

Not only gold but also transparent paints, varnishes, sealants, special foaming agents, metal powders, chemically active ingredients are used in the paintings.

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This picture shows the growing cortex of the human brain (on the 15th week of pregnancy).

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This picture shows the visual cortex. This is only part of one grandiose picture of the artist, which depicts 750,000 neurons and the connections between them.

As you can see, science and art can intersect in ways of communication. And if the dry language of academic articles attracts little people, then to popularize scientific ideas, one can take advantage of the experience of artistic culture.

Greg Dunne's paintings are exhibited at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and on the project's website you can see videos that show how the elements look under different highlights.

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