Scientists have created an elaborate map of more than a billion brain cell connections, helping to shed light on how memories are formed and recalled.

Their complex series of images are the first to illustrate how these vital connections are organised and could impact on our fundamental understanding of the brain. Researchers also showed that this molecular map is altered in mice with features of autism and of schizophrenia, suggesting that it could provide vital insights on brain disorders.

The study focused on gaps between brain cells – known as synapses – that allow chemical and electrical messages to flow and are vital to healthy brain function.
This is the first time that such a map – called a synaptome – has been created across the entire brain.

Researchers led by the University’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences used cutting-edge techniques, including molecular imaging and artificial intelligence, to look at synapses across the mouse brain.

Vivid patterns
They studied sections of brain tissue engineered to emit light, allowing the scientists to see individual synapses in color. By tagging distinct types of molecules in each synapse by color, they were able to detect a vivid pattern of synapses across the brain.

Running and jumping
Different groups of synapses were active depending on distinct behaviors of the mice – such as feeding, running and jumping.

Researchers say that the diversity of synapse types may be key to recalling information, helping the brain to quickly locate memories through patterns of its activity.

This finding could help scientists understand more about how memory problems develop.

Brain conditions
The study also showed that mice bred to mirror aspects of autism and schizophrenia had altered synaptome maps and did not recall information properly.

This could open new avenues towards understanding many different brain diseases and behavioral conditions.