05
December
2012

Neuroscience Lecture by Jeff Lichtman (Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA USA )

Title: "Connectomics"

Jeff Lichtman

Time and venue: 4.00 p.m. at the Lecture Hall (room 0.10 of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics, Max-von-Laue-Str. 3, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Campus Riedberg)

Abstract
Connectional maps of the brain may have value in developing models of both how the brain works and how it fails when subsets of neurons or synapses are missing or misconnected. Such maps might also provide the first detailed information about how brain circuits develop and age. I am especially eager to obtain such maps from the developing nervous system because of a longstanding interest in the neuromuscular circuit changes during mammalian early postnatal life. In the neuromuscular system we find that >90% of axonal input to muscle fibers is pruned in early postnatal life. This so called ‘synapse elimination’ may be part of the process whereby the nervous system’s synaptic connections are molded by experience. We have developed techniques to observe all these synaptic interactions at different postsynaptic targets simultaneously by computer assisted axonal tracing and the generation of a new generation of Brainbow transgenic mice in which different axons are labeled different colors.  These mice have revealed interesting patterns within the developing neuromuscular connectome, patterns that perhaps instantiate early experience in developing neural circuits. In brain however the density of neuropil is overwhelming making comparable fluorescent-based strategies impossible at present. We have therefore been developing an automated pipeline in which brain tissue is thin sectioned on tape, imaged with fast scanning electron microscopy and segmented with new algorithms. This suite of electron microscopy approaches aims at making large scale serial microscopic analysis of brain volumes routine.

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