In a nutshell: Neuroscientists want detailed anatomical information about the average brain, and about how brains differs between individuals. This automated process brings the dream closer.

The big picture:

Neuroscientists dream of a brain atlas called a “connectome” that not only shows how different regions connect to each other, brain cell by brain cell, but also lets them know how much brains differ from individual to individual.

For some animal species, a lot of neuroanatomical data has already been collected. Unfortunately, it is scattered across the world, in different laboratories, on different types of histology slides, much of it unpublished.

Now that information can be collated using a series of high-throughput, automated image processing techniques and computational analyses, called the Marmoset Brain Architecture Project.

The procedures or “toolbox” were developed by a team led by CIBF’s Piotr Majka and Marcello Rosa, both of Monash University, in collaboration with partner investigator Partha Mitra of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The procedures capture, combine and share brain data from histological slides, both newly-generated and archived. In tests, the brain maps generated are almost as precise as those generated by expert neuroanatomists using the same slides. That’s important, because it gives users an understanding of how much confidence they can place in their interpretations of the Project’s data.

What’s more, all data and computational tools are freely available to anyone through the Project website.

The Marmoset Brain Architecture Project will help reduce the number of animals needed to achieve a full-scale connectome of the marmoset brain cortex (in fact, of any primate), since a lot of the data already exists, says Rosa.

It could also be used in big-data brain research projects like the Human Brain Project.

Next steps:
The team is refining the computational methods to further improve precision of the atlas. They are also looking at automating staining, sectioning and imaging of brain tissue to speed up data collection.

Majka, P., Chaplin, T. A., Yu, H. H., Tolpygo, A., Mitra, P. P., Wójcik, D. K., and Rosa, M. G. (2016). Towards a comprehensive atlas of cortical connections in a primate brain: Mapping tracer injection studies of the common marmoset into a reference digital template. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 524(11), 2161-2181.

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