Science Webinar Series

Connectomics at the cutting edge: Challenges and opportunities in high-resolution brain mapping

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Science  31 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6209, pp. 651
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6209.651-c

Summary

Researchers in the field of connectomics endeavor to analyze the complex synaptic network formed by the billions of interconnected neurons. By thinly slicing neural tissue and imaging each section with a scanning electron microscope at high resolution, fine structural details can be visualized. Careful delineation of each neuron in the 3-D volume allows for the high-resolution mapping of all connections made by each cell, providing a detailed wiring diagram of the brain: the connectome. The sheer size and complexity of this scientific challenge is daunting. Tens of thousands of sections or more need to collected and hundreds of thousands of images recorded, resulting in many terabytes of data that require rapid processing, making connectomics a real “speed game.” Automated sample preparation robots and high throughput electron microscopes have now become available, bringing the promise of a larger (1 mm³), high-resolution connectome within reach. However, extracting neuronal circuit information from such large datasets is still a daunting task. This webinar will outline the challenges of connectomics, explain the latest methodological developments that are bringing imaging and data analysis closer to the desired throughput, and provide insights into how this research can provide a deeper understanding of brain function and dysfunction.