Dissolving part of the brain for a clearer look at its wiring

Every brain movement and thought zips between neurons like the current that moves through the wires and circuits in a computer. But the brain is covered with a white tissue, making it impossible for scientists to see how it makes these connections — until now.

A new process called CLARITY, developed by neuroscientist and psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford University, allows scientists to dissolve that fatty tissue and replace it with a clear gel. The clear gel exposes the brain’s circuitry, and with computer programming neuroscientists can zoom in on individual neurons.

“You can actually fly in and look around, see which connections are next to which other connections,” Deisseroth says. “And our goal is to understand the system in its entirety, but also in high resolution at the level of its wiring and individual cells.”

Being able to see individual neurons and their connections could help scientists fix neurological problems like depression or anxiety, something he sees often in his patients, Deisseroth added.

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has more on CLARITY for this story from the National Science Foundation’s program “Science Nation.”*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.