Building the human brain cell atlas

In an international collaboration, researchers hope to integrate single-cell and spatial techniques to create a cell atlas of human and primate brains.

A cell atlas refers to a comprehensive map and profile of each cell present in a tissue. Now, biotech companies and researchers are interested in developing technologies that can determine not only cell type and location, but also shape and distribution of human and primate brain cells. Presented at the 2022 Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting (San Diego (CA, USA); 12–16 November 2022), these methods for developing a brain atlas represent the advancement of spatial visualization techniques for the monitoring of brain changes and disease.

Previous work has developed a cell atlas for the mouse brain, which contains approximately 100 million cells. However, human and primate brains have billions of cells, making the creation of a cell atlas much more complex. Five research groups around the world are developing and utilizing different spatial and single-cell technologies to visualize brain cells at high resolution in context, often applying them first to mouse models before hopefully transitioning to humans.

At the biotechnology company Vizgen MA, USA), scientists are using multiplexed error-robust fluorescence in situ hybridization (MERFISH®) to create a mouse brain atlas that is both spatially resolved and molecularly defined. This technology demonstrates how spatial genomic assays allow for molecular-level tissue analysis [2].