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Connectomics at the cutting edge: Challenges and opportunities in high-resolution brain mapping

This webinar is brought to you by the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office

Connectomics at the cutting edge: Challenges and opportunities in high-resolution brain mapping

Recorded 03 November 2014



Researchers in the field of connectomics endeavor to analyze the complex synaptic network formed by the billions of interconnected neurons. By thinly slicing neural tissue and imaging each section with a scanning electron microscope at high resolution, fine structural details can be visualized. Careful delineation of each neuron in the 3-D volume allows for the high-resolution mapping of all connections made by each cell, providing a detailed wiring diagram of the brain: the connectome. The sheer size and complexity of this scientific challenge is daunting. Tens of thousands of sections or more need to collected and hundreds of thousands of images recorded, resulting in many terabytes of data that require rapid processing, making connectomics a real “speed game.” Automated sample preparation robots and high throughput electron microscopes have now become available, bringing the promise of a larger (1 mm³), high-resolution connectome within reach. However, extracting neuronal circuit information from such large datasets is still a daunting task. This webinar will outline the challenges of connectomics, explain the latest methodological developments that are bringing imaging and data analysis closer to the desired throughput, and provide insights into how this research can provide a deeper understanding of brain function and dysfunction.

During the webinar, the speakers will:

  • Provide an overview of high-resolution connectomics and the methods currently used to create dense reconstructions of the brain
  • Discuss new advances in the field that are enabling researchers to take the next quantum leap
  • Present their own research and provide some thoughts on how connectomics might evolve in the future
  • Discuss the limitations of what can be learned with these new approaches
  • Answer your questions live during the webinar!

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Speaker bios

Jeff Lichtman, M.D., Ph.D.

Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

Dr. Lichtman is Jeremy R. Knowles Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Ramón y Cajal Professor of Arts and Sciences. He received his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in Maine and an M.D. and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His Ph.D. work with Dale Purves concerned the ways in which connections between nerve cells are reorganized as animals begin to experience the world in early postnatal development. This subject has remained the interest of his laboratory (which he moved from St. Louis to Cambridge in 2004). In order to approach questions related to the fine structure of neural connections, Dr. Lichtman has developed methods for in vivo imaging of synapses, labeling of nerve cells with different colors, and high-resolution mapping of neural connections, a field he calls “connectomics.”

Moritz Helmstaedter, M.D.

Max Planck Institute for Brain Research
Frankfurt, Germany

Dr. Helmstaedter is a neuroscientist dedicated to mapping connectomes: the complex networks of nerve cells in the brain. A medical doctor and physicist by training, Dr. Helmstaedter completed his doctoral thesis with Nobel Laureate Bert Sakmann at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany. During his postdoctoral work, together with Winfried Denk and Kevin Briggman, he developed methods to map nerve cell networks using electron microscopes and computer analysis tools. In August 2014, he joined the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt as director of the new Department of Connectomics. Before this, he headed the Structure of Neocortical Circuits Group at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Munich, where he worked to understand the computations in the sensory cortex. Dr. Helmstaedter has pioneered crowd sourcing for connectomics, engaging several hundred undergraduates to work together to analyze neuronal networks. He is collaborating with game developers to build mobile and browser games, aiming at motivating thousands of curious minds to solve the task of reconstructing the powerful and fascinating neuronal networks of the brain online.

Sean Sanders, Ph.D.

Washington, DC

Dr. Sanders did his undergraduate training at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, UK, supported by the Wellcome Trust. Following postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health and Georgetown University, Dr. Sanders joined TranXenoGen, a startup biotechnology company in Massachusetts working on avian transgenics. Pursuing his parallel passion for writing and editing, Dr. Sanders joined BioTechniques as an editor, before joining Science/AAAS in 2006. Currently, Dr. Sanders is the Director and Senior Editor for Custom Publishing for the journal Science and Program Director for Outreach.

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