Neuroscientists draw up ‘parts list’ for brain cells

Neuroscientists used a new, gene-based classification of mouse brain cell types and additional information about neuron shape to uncover two new types of neurons involved in movement. (Credit: Michael Economo, Janelia Research Campus / Lucas Graybuck, Allen Institute)

How many different kinds of cells are there in the brain? At least 133 kinds, including two types of neurons not recognized before, according to a pair of studies featured on the cover of this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

The “parts list” builds on 15 years of work at Seattle’s Allen Institute, focused on analyzing genetic activity in nearly 24,000 of the 100 million brain cells in the mouse cortex. Each cell type exhibited a different combination of genes that were turned on or off.

“This is by far the most comprehensive, most in-depth analysis of any regions of the cortex in any species,” senior study author Hongkui Zeng, executive director of structured science at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, said in a news release. “We can now say that we understand the distribution rules for its parts list.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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