Letter from the President: New multimodal cell census and atlas advances the next wave of neuroscience

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MBF Bioscience proudly continues its commitment to neuroscience advances.

A century ago, when neuroscientists were asked about the characteristic properties of a nerve cell (neuron), they answered that neurons are cells in the central nervous system (CNS) characterized by a soma (cell body), processes that receive information from other neurons (dendrites), and a process that sends information to other neurons (axon). This answer has not changed since then. However, researchers’ ability to further characterize neurons has become increasingly sophisticated.

Beginning approximately 70 years ago, neuroscientists began also characterizing neurons by their neurotransmitter, which determines whether they activate (using Glutamate) or inactive (using GABA) other neurons. Furthermore, over the last 50 years the field of chemical neuroanatomy has identified a multitude of subclasses within the categories of excitatory (glutamatergic) or inhibitory (GABAergic) neurons based on the expression of certain molecules (such as calbindin, calretinin, parvalbumin and NPY, to mention only a few).

In 1981, co-founder of MBF Bioscience Dr. Edmund Glaser developed a breakthrough in the development of computerized neuron tracing [1], which enabled neuroscientists to identify subclasses of excitatory and inhibitory neurons based on quantitative anatomical analysis of their dendritic and axonal trees. Furthermore, the last few years have given rise to sophisticated new methods and techniques for imaging and determining long-range connections within the mouse brain, which has resulted in the publication of the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas in 2019 [2].

All of these prior achievements are cumulative and still highly relevant in the day-to-day advancement of neuroscience.

On October 7, 2021, the characterization of neurons in the CNS was literally turned upside down. On this day, a series of 17 papers were published in Issue 7879 (Volume 598) of the Journal Nature, representing the first major achievement of the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN): a comprehensive, multimodal cell census and atlas of the mammalian primary motor cortex [3].

The key innovation implemented in the new atlas is a novel mouse consensus transcriptomic taxonomy, which now resides at the top of a hierarchy used to integrate information from many different sources to define the anatomical, physiological, and molecular identities of specific neurons (as well as non-neuronal cells in the CNS). Another key feature of the new atlas is the fact that all data are registered to the Allen Mouse Brain Common Coordinate Framework (CCF) [4]. This also determines where the specific cell types are found within the mammalian primary motor cortex.

From a helicopter point of view, the new data presented by the BICCN can be summarized as follows: many (if not most) cell types in the primary motor cortex are conserved across mice, marmosets, and humans, which suggests that these cell types play crucial roles in cortical circuitry and function in mammals. Furthermore, the connectivity of the mammalian primary motor cortex is far more complex than previously thought.

As a partner in this important work, MBF is thrilled to be present at this next step in the evolution of neuroscience research — and is standing arm-in-arm with researchers in advancing the understanding of the brain. MBF’s products can already be used within the framework of the BICCN. And, future releases of MBF’s products will incorporate even more support for this important work.

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