Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Brain cells illuminated in a rainbow of even brighter colours allows more detail to be discerned

01 January 2019

Follow the Brainbow

In 2007 scientists and artists alike were first entranced by ‘Brainbow’ – a tool that illuminates the brain in a whirl of colour, with each cell, or neuron, glowing a unique hue. Researchers began untangling the brain’s complex web of connections, but soon found Brainbow’s limits. Neurons have long, thin projections called axons, and the fluorescent colours aren’t bright enough to clearly show their full spindly length, so tracking their paths can take months. Now a new technique takes the concept one step further, imbuing neurons with even brighter colours, making even the finest strands more visible and dramatically reducing the time it takes to track them. Named ‘Tetbow’ after the antibiotic tetracycline, which it uses to control gene expression, this illuminating approach reveals the most intricate details of 3D structure such as the fine tufts visible in the olfactory bulb [part of the brain involved in smell] section pictured.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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