Skip to Content

A Near-Whole Brain Activity Map in Fish

Neuron-level whole-brain activity maps could one day help explain brain function and disfunction.

Image: Neurons glow red as they fire in this whole zebrafish larva brain. Credit: Misha Ahrens and Philipp Keller

Researchers have for the first time been able to image most of an entire vertebrate brain at the level of single cells, reports Nature.

A study from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, published in Nature Methods on Monday, shows that modifications to existing microscopy techniques enable researchers to take snap shots of neuron-by-neuron activity in the whole brain of a living zebrafish larvae. The zebrafish larvae, whose bodies are transparent and brains are tiny, were genetically engineered to produce a protein in their neurons that glows in response to the chemical changes that occur when that neuron fires.

With conventional techniques, capturing the activity of even 2,000 neurons at once is difficult. With the modified fish and microscopy methods, the researchers were able to capture the activity of at least 80 percent of the baby fish’s 100,000 neurons over a time period of just 1.3 seconds.   

The result is an encouraging announcement for proponents of the Brain Activity Map project, a still-developing scientific collaboration to establish new technologies that can record the activity of all individual neurons in a brain circuit simultaneously (see “The Brain Activity Map”). According to Nature News, Rafael Yuste, a neurobiologist at Columbia University in New York and leader of the Brain Activity Map project, thinks the zebrafish results are “phenomenal.”

“It is a bright star now in the literature, suggesting that it is not crazy to map every neuron in the brain of an animal,” [says Yuste].

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.