A Cortex Neuron Mural at Princeton by Kfay

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Cortical neurons by Eyewirer @kfay, Anthony Hernandez.

Everything you think and feel is manifested in the brain as electrical and chemical activity within an extraordinarily complex network of neurons. If you were to map all the circuits, you would have a connectome. Deciphering the tiny, intricate branches of neurons and synapses that join them is an extremely challenging and time consuming challenge, so researchers are building cutting edge artificial intelligence to help the sharp senses of human insight. Pairing AI with humans allows labs to navigate uncharted cortical territory. One bit of such new terrain is shown in the image above. It was rendered by Anthony Hernandez, known in Eyewire as kfay, as a part of the Princeton installation of the Connectome section of the Istanbul Design Biennial.

These pyramidal neurons were reconstructed from mouse visual cortex using nanoscale-resolution images within an electron microscope (EM). Vast dendrites extend upward and sideways from the rounded somas. Notice how they are covered in spines. Each minute projection is one half of a synapse that receives information from other cells, acting as a communication site between neurons. In Neo, players will help chart axons and dendrites, as well as classify synaptic connections. Each member of the neuron type shown in the image and animation has one axon extending downward, eventually making up to thousands of connections with nearby cells and in faraway regions of the brain.

The image above is special not only because it beautifully visualizes a new realm of cortex. It was made by your fellow Eyewirer @kfay and manifests as a 10 ft by 14 ft wall mural at Princeton University. The full resolution render came out to well over 50,000 px across!

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Sebastian Seung and Amy Sterling at the launch of the cortex wall at Princeton. Render by kfay, Anthony Hernandez.

What a wonderful wall of cortex! These twenty six neurons from mouse V1 (primary visual cortex) are found at at one of the first stops for visual stimuli. We ballparked a rough estimate for number of spines here and came up with around 10,000 – 20,000 in this image alone! These cells are from the preliminary dataset. A later version that is 1,000 times larger will become the basis for Neo.

The design biennial was co-curated by Beatriz Colomina, Professor at Princeton University’s School of Architecture and Co-Director of the Media and Modernity Program, and Mark Wigley, Professor and Dean Emeritus at Columbia GSAPP (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation). The Connectome mural and essay was curated by Amy Sterling and Sebastian Seung. The mural image was generated from EM data collected by The Allen Institute with alignment and segmentation from Sebastian Seung’s Lab within the Princeton Neuroscience Institute funded by the iARPA MICRONS program. Image rendered by Anthony Hernandez, aka @kfay, a designer and citizen scientist who maps neurons similar to these by playing the brain mapping game Eyewire.