Digital reconstruction of a neuron wrapping around the mouse brain.

The brain is arguably the most complex organ in the human body and understanding its structure could help explain a fundamental mystery of human existence: consciousness. The brain is composed of billions of specialized cells called neurons, which communicate with each other via electrical and chemical signals. Neurons are responsible for processes ranging from vital life functions to the ability to walk, talk remember, and reflect.

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington have discovered a new neuron, and it is huge. This single neuron encircles the entire mouse brain. It begins in a region of the brain called the claustrum, which is believed to play a role in consciousness, and can be traced to areas of the brain that process sensory information and control behavior.

The neuron in question was discovered using a new brain mapping technique. Researchers treated genetically modified mice with a drug to make the neurons fluoresce, took 10,000 images of each mouse brain, and then used a computer program to generate a 3D image.

Further study will be needed to determine the function of this neuron. Given its immense size, it might serve as an information highway of sorts, coordinating communication throughout the mouse brain. While we’re still a long way from understanding consciousness, this might be one more piece of the puzzle.

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Elizabeth Lamkin for providing her expertise and commentary on this topic. Elizabeth is a graduate student in the Neuroscience department at Harvard.

Managing Correspondent: Benika Pinch

Original Article: A Giant Neuron Found Wrapped Around Entire Mouse Brain

Media Coverage: Gigantic Neuron Around the Brain

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