What is the periodic table of the brain? A new neuron study investigates

An image to illustrate the periodic table of brain cells
© iStock/agsandrew

Scientists from the Allen Institute are working on a periodic table of the brain, which allows them to classify cells based on shape and electrical activity.

The researchers have analysed hundreds of cells in the mouse brain to classify them and build their periodic table. Cells are the ‘building blocks’ of the brain, so neuroscientists are placing emphasis on understanding more about them to better understand the brain.

Allen Institute scientists are working to build a ‘periodic table’ of cell types in the brain. In this study, researchers carefully analyzed hundreds of cells in the mouse brain and classified them based on their shape and electrical activity. Credit: Allen Institute

The importance of defining a cell type

Hongkui Zeng, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of Structured Science at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a division of the Allen Institute, and the senior author on the study.

Hongkui Zeng explained: “A cell type is a group of cells that have similar functional properties to each other, but we don’t understand what all those properties are. We shouldn’t just be looking at a single feature; we need to look at as many features of the cells as possible and ask whether they are consistent with each other.”

Nathan Gouwens, Ph.D., one of the lead authors on the study added: “A cell’s shape is a proxy for how it’s connected to other cells,” said Gouwens, a computational neuroscientist at the Allen Institute. “We care about how cells are connected to each other because that’s how they form circuits to process information.”

The potential applications of the research

The data from this research and data about the gene expression of the brain’s cells types is publicly available. The researchers hope this will enable further exploration from other research teams. A neuroscientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Berg, said: “They can form a hypothesis as to how the gene dysfunction might change that cell type, how it might lead to specific effects. It takes a lot of numbers to get that coverage so that people can trust the data, but I think we’re finally at that phase.”

Source: Technology Networks

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