AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018


How is a Developing Brain Assembled?

A new, open-source software, described by researchers from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the Center for Information Technology may help track the embryonic development and movement of neuronal cells throughout the body of a worm. During the study, the first challenge was to create new microscopes that could record the embryogenesis of these worms without damaging them through too much light exposure, while still getting the resolution needed to clearly see individual cells. The second problem was that during development the worm begins to “twitch,” moving around inside the egg. The folding and twisting makes it hard to track cells and parse out movement. For example, if a neuron moves in the span of a couple of minutes, is it because the embryo twisted or because the neuron actually changed position within the embryo? Lastly, it can be challenging to determine where a neuron is in 3D space while looking at a two-dimensional image — especially of a worm that’s folded up. The worm embryo is normally transparent, but the researchers made several cells in the embryo glow with fluorescent proteins to act as markers. When a microscopic image of these cells is fed into the program, the software identifies each cell and uses the information to create a model of the worm, which it then computationally “untwists” to generate a straightened image. The program also enables a user to check the accuracy of the computer model and edit it when any mistakes are discovered. In addition, users can also mark cells or structures within the worm embryo they want the program to track, allowing the users to follow the position of a cell as it moves and grows in the developing embryo. This feature could help scientists understand how certain cells develop into neurons, as opposed to other types of cells, and what factors influence the development of the brain and neuronal structure. To read more about this study, click here.

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