To Each His Own

Every human brain is far more unique, adaptable, and vulnerable than ever suspected.

By | November 1, 2017

ANDRZEJ KRAUZE

Like the entomologist in search of colorful butterflies, my attention has chased in the gardens of the grey matter cells with delicate and elegant shapes, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, whose beating of wings may one day reveal to us the secrets of the mind.
—Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Recollections of My Life

Based on this quote, I am pretty certain that Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a founding father of modern neuroscience, would approve of this month’s cover. The Spaniard had wanted to become an artist, but, goaded by his domineering father into the study of medicine, Ramón y Cajal concentrated on brain anatomy, using his artistic talent to render stunningly beautiful and detailed maps of neuron placement throughout the brain. Based on his meticulous anatomical studies of individual neurons, he proposed that nerve cells did not form a mesh—the going theory at the time—but were separated from each other by microscopic gaps now called synapses.

Fast-forward from the early 20th century to the present day, when technical advances in imaging have revealed any number of the brain’s secrets. Ramón y Cajal would no doubt have marveled at the technicolor neuron maps revealed by the Brainbow labeling technique. (Compare Ramón y Cajal’s drawings of black-stained Purkinje neurons to a Brainbow micrograph of the type of neuron.) But the technical marvels have gotten even more revelatory.

In Advancing Techniques Reveal the Brain’s Impressive Diversity, Rusty Gage and two of his postdocs, Sara Linker and Tracy Bedrosian, describe nonvisual methods for delving ever deeper into neurons—analyzing not just what you see, but what you get by performing genome sequencing and transcriptional, posttranscriptional, posttranslational, and epigenetic analyses on single cells. The results of such research paint neurons as tiles in a cellular mosaic. “The human brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons, and we now know that there may be almost as many unique cell types,” they write. “Brain cells in particular may be as unique as the people to which they belong.” To each brain, its own ecology. And a clear picture of the implications of this cellular individuality, they write, “may one day reveal to us the secrets of the mind”—Ramón y Cajal’s ultimate goal.

Also in this issue—November being the month each year when TS focuses on advances in neuroscience—you will find Amanda Keener’s feature about the characteristics of blood vessels in the central nervous system and how they act to restrict access to brain cells. “A real naive view is that the blood-brain barrier is just a wall,” a neuroscientist tells her. “It is a whole series of physical properties that allow the vessels to control what goes between the blood and the brain.” Creative solutions for getting useful drugs into the brain include disrupting endothelial-cell tight junctions with ultrasound waves and microbubbles, and tricking vessels’ transport systems into letting target molecules through. Researchers are now testing these new methods in animal models and 3-D cultures, as well as in human patients.

More articles that underscore the brain’s intricacy include a method for recording the magnetic signals that accompany nerve cell electrical discharges (here); optogenetic and chemogenetic methods for studying behavior in primates (here); how the brains of memory athletes process the prodigious amount of material they must master to win competitions (here); a simple eye exam for early, noninvasive detection and tracking of Alzheimer’s disease (here); and a recent report from the MIT lab of profilee Li-Huei Tsai showing that exposing mouse models of Alzheimer’s to strobe lighting reduced amyloid-β levels by half (here).

What a wonderful ecosystem the brain is, always beckoning scientists to map the secrets locked in its cells. I’ll give Ramón y Cajal the last word: “The brain is a world consisting of a number of unexplored continents and great stretches of unknown territory.”

Mary Beth Aberlin  Editor-in-Chief

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You

You

Processing...
Processing...

Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo

Comments

Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 481

November 21, 2017

The virus-driven degradation of messenger RNA has been linked to the destruction of all food energy-dependent pheromone-controlled biophysically constrained ecosystems in species from microbes to humans.

But  Researchers reveal new details on aged brain, Alzheimer's and dementia

only recently


...revealed a surprising relationship between dementia and decreased quality of RNA—a key player in gene expression—in the more aged brain.

Obviously, something has gone horribly wrong. Serious scientists can now simply recommend that everyone older than 10 play the game Cytosis.

A board game taking place inside a human cell! Players compete to build enzymes, hormones and receptors and fend off attacking Viruses!

Anyone older than 10 can then dismiss the claims of people like Rusty Gage about ecology and simply link what organisms eat from ecological variation to ecological adaptation via the physiology of pheromone-controlled reproduction, or link the virus-driven degradation of messenger RNA from mutations to all pathology.

Popular Now

  1. 2017 Top 10 Innovations
    Features 2017 Top 10 Innovations

    From single-cell analysis to whole-genome sequencing, this year’s best new products shine on many levels.

  2. Thousands of Mutations Accumulate in the Human Brain Over a Lifetime
  3. Antiviral Immunotherapy Comes of Age
    News Analysis Antiviral Immunotherapy Comes of Age

    T-cell therapies are not just for cancer. Researchers are also advancing immunotherapy methods to protect bone marrow transplant patients from viral infections. 

  4. Search for Life on the Red Planet
FreeShip