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Categorizing Brain Cells

Researchers at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego discuss new efforts to perform single-cell analyses on the brain’s billions of cells.

By Jef Akst | November 16, 2016

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, GERRYSHAW

The deeper scientists probe into the complexity of the human brain, the more questions seem to arise. One of the most fundamental questions is how many different types of brain cells there are, and how to categorize individual cell types. That dilemma was discussed during a session yesterday (November 11) at the ongoing Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference in San Diego, California.

As Evan Macosko of the Broad Institute said, the human brain comprises billions of brain cells—about 170 billion, according to one recent estimate—and there is a “tremendous amount of diversity in their function.” Now, new tools are supporting the study of single-cell transcriptomes, and the number of brain cell subtypes is skyrocketing. “We saw even greater degrees of heterogeneity in these cell populations than had been appreciated before,” Macosko said of his own single-cell interrogations of the mouse brain. He and others continue to characterize more brain regions, clustering cell types based on differences in gene expression, and then creating subclusters to look for diversity within each cell population.

Following Macosko’s talk, Bosiljka Tasic of the Allen Institute for Brain Science emphasized that categorizing cell types into subgroups based on gene expression is not enough. Researchers will need to combine such data with traditional metrics, such as morphology and electrophysiology to “ultimately come up with an integrative taxonomy of cell types,” Tasic said. “Multimodal data acquisition—it’s a big deal and I think it’s going to be a big focus of our future endeavors.”

Link to this article:  http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/47527/title/Categorizing-Brain-Cells/&hootPostID=d75df926134333e229fcead4839f5e1f/

Speaking of Neuroscience…

A selection of notable quotes from the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting

It’s slow but it’s steady and eventually it hits big pay dirt.

Walter Koroshetz, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) director, on the process of science

We’ve come to recognize that we know actually very little [about] the neuroscience of pain.

Nora Volkow, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) director

We all like discreteness but sometimes things are not simple.

Bosiljka Tasic, Allen Institute for Brain Science

It’s often said that we don’t really know how anesthesia works. Nothing could be further from the truth. We just haven’t paid attention.

Emery Brown, MIT

This pie in the sky idea [antisense oligonucleotides] from animal models has now moved forward into the clinic.

Timothy Miller, Washington University in St. Louis

Exercise is not like this big green glow around the whole brain. It seems to be circuit specific, and that’s interesting.

Giselle Petzinger, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine

We became very excited that tau antisense oligonucleotides could be a rapid way to get into the clinic.

Angela Cacace, Bristol-Myers Squibb

See “Probing the Role of Tau Protein in Disease

It is incumbent to maintain the free exchange of people and ideas across borders.

David Julius, University of California, San Francisco, before delivering his invited lecture “Natural Products as Probes of the Pain Pathway”

We know nothing about the mechanism of cortical neuron sensitization in chronic pain.

Cheryl Stucky, Medical College of Wisconsin

There have been only a handful of posters on this subject at SfN in recent years, but the number of attendees today attests to the growing popularity of this research topic.

Barbara Sorg, Washington State University Vancouver, introducing a minisymposium on perineuronal nets and neural plasticity

The neuronal DNA methylome has many surprising properties.

Hongjun Song, Johns Hopkins University

Sound is absolutely central to a tremendous amount of human communication.

Nina Kraus, Northwestern University

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