Technique for preserving tissue allows researchers to create maps of neural circuits with single-cell resolution.
December 17, 2018

MIT chemical engineers and neuroscientists have devised a new way to preserve biological tissue, allowing them to visualize proteins, DNA, and other molecules within cells, and to map the connections between neurons.

The researchers showed that they could use this method, known as SHIELD, to trace the connections between neurons in a part of the brain that helps control movement and other neurons throughout the brain.

“Using our technique, for the first time, we were able to map the connectivity of these neurons at single-cell resolution,” says Kwanghun Chung, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and a member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. “We can get all this multiscale, multidimensional information from the same tissue in a fully integrated manner because with SHIELD we can protect all this information.”

Chung is the senior author of the paper, which appears in the Dec. 17 issue of Nature Biotechnology. The paper’s lead authors are MIT postdocs Young-Gyun Park, Chang Ho Sohn, and Ritchie Chen.

Chung is now leading a team of researchers from several institutions that recently received a National Institutes of Health grant to use this technique to produce three-dimensional maps of the entire human brain. “We will be working with the Matthew Frosch group at MGH, the Van Wedeen group at MGH, the Sebastian Seung group at Princeton, and the Laura Brattain group at MIT Lincoln Lab to generate the most comprehensive brain map yet,” he says.