A new imaging technique may give researchers fresh insights into brain development, function, and disease
The human brain is often said to be the most complex object in the known universe, and there’s good reason to believe that it is. That lump of jelly inside your head contains at least 80 billion nerve cells, or neurons, and even more of the non-neuronal cells called glia. Between them, they form hundreds of trillions of precise synaptic connections; but they all have moveable parts, and these connections can change. Neurons can extend and retract their delicate fibres; some types of glial cells can crawl through the brain; and neurons and glia routinely work together to create new connections and eliminate old ones.
These processes begin before we are born, and occur until we die, making the brain a highly dynamic organ that undergoes continuous change throughout life. At any given moment, many millions of them are being modified in one way or another, to reshape the brain’s circuitry in response to our daily experiences. Researchers at Yale University have now developed an imaging technique that enables them to visualise the density of synapses in the living human brain, and offers a promising new way of studying how the organ develops and functions, and also how it deteriorates in various neurological and psychiatric conditions.
Related: Brain’s immune cells hyperactive in schizophrenia
Related: 3D model of a nerve terminal in atomic detail | Mo Costandi