Seeing Through Mice

A new technique for turning mouse fetuses transparent offers a literal window into the brain.

By | September 1, 2011

Left: Mouse fetus treated with phosphate buffered saline. Right: Mouse fetus treated with Scale.RIKEN

While physicists work to turn Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak into a reality, Japanese biologists are one upping them—creating mouse fetuses with completely transparent membranes. But it’s not just a cool lab party trick. The see-through mice offer a clear view of the neurons within the brain, ScienceNOW reports.

Treating fetuses with a new mixture of chemicals, called Scale, which included urea, glycerol, and soap, researchers at RIKEN Brain Science Institute and other Japanese institutes succeeded in eliminating the pigmentation from the mouse cells, according to the study published this week in Nature Neuroscience. While the fetuses aren’t living, the technique affords neuroscientists the ability to visualize fixed fluorescing neurons “at an unprecedented depth” and “subcellular resolution,” the authors write—several millimeters deep in the brain—something not possible with previous optical methods for viewing neurons in intact mammalian brains. This level of detail allowed the researchers to create three-dimensional reconstructions neuronal projections and to measure distances between neural stem cells and blood vessels.

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