Peering into Cellular Worlds
By Emily Singer
Extremely subtle variations in brain structure may lie at the root of schizophrenia, autism, and disorders of the nervous system. To find these elusive flaws, scientists must be able to study the brain at very high resolutions over large areas and in three dimensions. But most high-resolution imaging techniques can look only at limited areas of brain tissue.
Recent developments in computer-aided microscopy promise to overcome these limitations. In a method developed by Mark Ellisman’s group at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) at the University of California, San Diego, a microscope takes a series of 3-D pictures of a slice of tissue, which is moved slightly between pictures by a motorized, high-precision microscope stage. Software then combines the images into a single, seamless composite.
At left, a cross section of a rat cerebellum has been stained with three types of fluorescent dyes, to highlight both individual brain cells and the layered organization of the tissue.