Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, first captured the elegant beauty of branching neurons in his simple ink drawings 100 years ago. These entries for the 2012 Art of Neuroscience competition in the Netherlands use modern imaging techniques to show how far our view into the brain has come.
The competition's winning entry was a video that used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to visualize brain function and anatomy. Also keep an ear on the soundtrack, which was composed by assigning each brain activity pattern to an instrument. The instrument's pitch varies with intensity of brain activity--raw thought translated into music.
See all of the entries, including videos, at the Art of Neuroscience competition's website. Also see DISCOVER's earlier gallery of Ramon y Cajal's work.
This brain slice from a human autopsy has taken on vivid color in the hands of a neuroscientist: green from infection by a lentivirus, red for neurons, blue for the nuclei of brain cells. Red and blue were introduced with a technique called immunohistochemistry, which uses antibodies that bind to specific proteins in order to highlight certain cells or parts of cells.
Neuronal activity is correlated with an influx of calcium ions, which can be tracked with fluorescent dyes or proteins that bind to calcium, as in these pyramidal cells.
The trails of light follow neurons that secrete GnRH, a master hormone that regulates other reproductive hormones. Unusual for neurons, these sit just outside of the brain-blood barrier, which is how they have access to the bloodstream, where they deposit GnRH.
Why is there a neuron doing on a frozen lake in Gouwzee, Netherlands? Oh, nevermind, that's just a hole in the ice. (Note the skaters in the background, wisely far away from the crack.)
Form and beauty are repeated across multiple scales in nature.
Neurons in the prefrontal cortex are naturally organized in layers, which are highlighted by these Rothko-esque blobs of color. The neurons are stained with a chemical called biocytin.
These astrocytes and neurons grew out of stem cells that originally came from a dead human brain. The different types of resulting brain cells were then stained in the fluorescent colors seen here.
See all of the entries, including videos, at the Art of Neuroscience competition's website.