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Brain deep dive

Neurons in an intact mouse hippocampus visualized using CLARITY. Video courtesy Nature. (Mouse brain slice preview image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

A new method devised by Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford University in California, US, enables researchers to see directly into transparent brains or thick blocks of brain tissue. The technique, known as CLARITY, was published online in Natureearlier this month. It includes a chemical treatment that turns whole organs transparent using a detergent which strips away lipids that normally block the passage of light.

The results offer instant advances in the field of ‘connectomics’— the push to map the brain’s wiring. “You can get right down to the fine structure of the system while not losing the big picture,” says Deisseroth. Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health, noted the achievement as one of the most important advances in the field of neuroanatomy in decades.

Scientists are already predicting the path CLARITY will pave for studies in healthy brain wiring, brain disorders, ageing, and neurological disease. The technology also opens new research opportunities for older, preserved brains from patients and healthy donors in research organ banks.

- Amber Harmon

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