3,000 Types Of Brain Cells Categorized In Massive Brain Cell Atlas

19:49 minutes

Clusters of multi-colored dots. labeled with cell types.
Two dimensional positioning of brain cells (dots) based on their gene expression, used in a study about cortical brain cell variation between individuals. Cells are color-coded by donor. Image credit and study by N. Johanson et. al

In October 2023, an international group of scientists released an impressively detailed cell atlas of the human brain, published in 21 papers in the journals Science, Science Advances and Science Translational Medicine.

The human brain has roughly 171 billion cells, which makes it a herculean task to categorize them all. Scientists collected samples from different parts of the brain and have identified 3,000 different types of cells. Each cell contains thousands of genes and each cell type only expresses a small fraction of those. Cataloging cells by their gene expressions, paves the way for scientists to tailor disease treatments to target only the affected cells. This human brain cell atlas is only the first draft, but it could signal a paradigm shift in how we understand and treat neurological diseases.

Ira talks with one of the researchers who helped put together the cell atlas, Dr. Ed Lein, senior investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and takes listener calls.

Further Reading

Segment Guests

Ed Lein

Dr. Ed Lein is a senior investigator in the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington.

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Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

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