Structural neurobiology: missing link to a mechanistic understanding of neural computation

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2012 Feb 22;13(5):351-8. doi: 10.1038/nrn3169.


High-resolution, comprehensive structural information is often the final arbiter between competing mechanistic models of biological processes, and can serve as inspiration for new hypotheses. In molecular biology, definitive structural data at atomic resolution are available for many macromolecules; however, information about the structure of the brain is much less complete, both in scope and resolution. Several technical developments over the past decade, such as serial block-face electron microscopy and trans-synaptic viral tracing, have made the structural biology of neural circuits conceivable: we may be able to obtain the structural information needed to reconstruct the network of cellular connections for large parts of, or even an entire, mouse brain within a decade or so. Given that the brain's algorithms are ultimately encoded by this network, knowing where all of these connections are should, at the very least, provide the data needed to distinguish between models of neural computation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Computational Biology / trends
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods
  • Nerve Net / cytology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / ultrastructure
  • Neurobiology / methods*
  • Neurobiology / trends
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurons / ultrastructure