This technique, detailed in the July 3 issue of the journal Neuron, provides an important new tool scientists can use to automate and modernize histology, the study of tissues at the microscopic level, as well as to map the production of neurotransmitters and other proteins involved in communication between cells and normal cell function, which are produced in different regions of the brain.
"We can now look at a large portion of the brain and do statistics on the anatomy, because this new technique is able to more precisely measure structures in the brain and do it without the tedious and laborious methods of thin slicing sections of the brain," says David Kleinfeld, a professor of physics at UCSD who headed the study. "It solves a big problem and it potentially changes the way a lot of science is done today."
Until now, to get microscopic images of the brain, scientists have relied on a procedure developed in the early twentieth century that involves manually cutting thin slices of frozen brain, and viewing them through a light microscope. Not only is this painstaking, but freezing the tissue can damage it.
"This project began as a response to a lament from Beth Friedman, a researcher in the neurosciences department at UCSD and the neuroanatomist on the project," recalls Kleinfeld. "Beth felt that current methods to reconstruct the architecture of regions of the brain were simply tedious and inaccurate in comparison with the rapid assays for genes and proteins brought about by the revolution in molecular biology. The technique we have developed makes it possible to take a chunk of tissue and come up with hard numbers on sizes of structures or expression of proteins."