Advancing multiscale structural mapping of the brain through fluorescence imaging and analysis across length scales

Interface Focus. 2016 Feb 6;6(1):20150081. doi: 10.1098/rsfs.2015.0081.


Brain function emerges from hierarchical neuronal structure that spans orders of magnitude in length scale, from the nanometre-scale organization of synaptic proteins to the macroscopic wiring of neuronal circuits. Because the synaptic electrochemical signal transmission that drives brain function ultimately relies on the organization of neuronal circuits, understanding brain function requires an understanding of the principles that determine hierarchical neuronal structure in living or intact organisms. Recent advances in fluorescence imaging now enable quantitative characterization of neuronal structure across length scales, ranging from single-molecule localization using super-resolution imaging to whole-brain imaging using light-sheet microscopy on cleared samples. These tools, together with correlative electron microscopy and magnetic resonance imaging at the nanoscopic and macroscopic scales, respectively, now facilitate our ability to probe brain structure across its full range of length scales with cellular and molecular specificity. As these imaging datasets become increasingly accessible to researchers, novel statistical and computational frameworks will play an increasing role in efforts to relate hierarchical brain structure to its function. In this perspective, we discuss several prominent experimental advances that are ushering in a new era of quantitative fluorescence-based imaging in neuroscience along with novel computational and statistical strategies that are helping to distil our understanding of complex brain structure.

Keywords: brain structure; fluorescence imaging; multiscale analysis and modelling.