Map of every neuron

The overriding “theme” of the advances in neurotechnology these days revolves around trying to see the brain in greater detail. People want to see the circuits in detail, down to the single neurons. People want to trace neurons and identify which neurons all around the brain that they connect with. However, this is a laborious process and the technology doesn’t exist yet to build a picture of the brain neuron by neuron. People are either able to map the neural circuits for incredibly small chunks of brain (a chunk of human brain the size of a grain of salt takes up 2 petabytes of data); to map the entire human brain, but not in very fine detail (like the Allen brain atlas); or to map the brains of other animals (such as mice). I am imagining a technology that will be able to map the entire human brain in fine detail. The technology will generate a 3-d simulation of the brain which can be viewed on a computer screen. You will be able to zoom in on a single particular neuron and the computer will show you where it connects. This will give information in greater detail than ever as to the function of very specific circuits of neurons. It will enable scientists to differentiate areas of the brain with much more precision. Moreover, this 3-d simulation won’t be generated using a recently deceased brain—it will be generated in real time. Thus, like an fMRI, you can watch as the brain responds to stimuli in real time. However, instead of watching general areas of the brain, you can watch individual neural circuits. Also, you can compare multiple brains at the same time. This will let you examine the difference between normal brains and brains with, for example, schizophrenia. Right now, we can’t tell a schizophrenic brain apart from a normal brain. But, if we could compare them in greater detail, we might be able to discover something. That’s just one example.

To make an image of all the individual neural circuits of the brain while it is alive, we need to have a new type of imaging system. We also need to improve our chemistry skills. Normally, you inject fluorescent material into a cell, watch as it travels the length of the axon, and use a microscope or some other imaging technique to generate the picture of the cell. I want to have the same thing, but using photons or some other particle that can pass through the skull. Perhaps you use different electrically charged particles for different neurons. You precisely beam the particle inside the head. It collides with the neuron. It releases a chemical into the cell body which diffuses throughout the cell. A machine mounted outside the head precisely detects the location of the radioactive signals of the chemical. It uses this location information to generate a picture of that neuron in the computer simulation. Thus, you scan a single neuron. The machine is able to do this incredibly fast, and it can also differentiate well between different neurons (based on which chemical was injected into which). It continuously scans the brain, updating its pictures of the neuron.

There would need to be a lot of technological advances to make a real-time neural circuit imaging system possible. For one, you need to have incredible data processing abilities. Images of neural circuits create a lot of data. However, considering how terabyte-containing USB drives are hitting the market, I think computers will learn to be a lot faster very soon. Another thing we don’t have is the imaging technology to detect minute electrical changes in great detail. Our machine needs to have ultrasensitive receptors that can measure potential changes down to the millivolt in order to tell which neuron is exactly where. This will probably take longer to develop and calibrate. Probably, it will be 100 years before people have the ability to do this.

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2 responses to “Map of every neuron”

  1. Carlos Aizenman says:

    That’ll be a lot of data to process in real time! It’s a very cool idea.

  2. Hannah Bukzin says:

    Thats so funny!! I had an idea very similar to this.

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