Exploring the brain’s most sophisticated functions, such as generating thoughts, is an arduous task, requiring ever more advanced imaging techniques. A new method, based on genetically-modifying neurons to fluoresce, enabled the precise reconstruction of the connections of three neurons in the mouse brain (pictured). One of these (in cyan) appears to have projections encircling the whole outer layer of the brain, or cerebral cortex. All three originate in the claustrum, a sheet of cells present in mammalian brains, receiving inputs from many regions of the cortex. This area is thought to integrate all sorts of sensory information, such as sights and sounds, but some researchers go further, suggesting that it could be responsible for concept formation and consciousness. The wide-ranging connections made by single claustrum neurons provide some support for such a complex function, but much more work is needed to solve this enduring mystery.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.