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Apr. 10, 2013 — Combining neuroscience and chemical engineering, researchers at Stanford University have developed a process that renders a mouse brain transparent. The postmortem brain remains whole -- not sliced or sectioned in any way -- with its three-dimensional complexity of fine wiring and molecular structures completely intact and able to be measured and probed at will with visible light and chemicals.
"Studying intact systems with this sort of molecular resolution and global scope -- to be able to see the fine detail and the big picture at the same time -- has been a major unmet goal in biology, and a goal that CLARITY begins to address," Deisseroth said.
Using fluorescent antibodies that are known to seek out and attach themselves only to specific proteins, Deisseroth's team showed that it can target specific structures within the CLARITY-modified -- or "clarified" -- mouse brain and make those structures and only those structures light up under illumination. The researchers can trace neural circuits through the entire brain or explore deeply into the nuances of local circuit wiring. They can see the relationships between cells and investigate subcellular structures. They can even look at chemical relationships of protein complexes, nucleic acids and neurotransmitters.
"Being able to determine the molecular structure of various cells and their contacts through antibody staining is a core capability of CLARITY, separate from the optical transparency, which enables us to visualize relationships among brain components in fundamentally new ways," said Deisseroth, who is one of 15 experts on the "dream team" that will map out goals for the $100 million brain research initiative announced April 2 by President Obama.