Apr 8, 2022

Blue Brain builds neurons with mathematics

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, chemistry, computing, information science, mathematics, neuroscience

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Spanish physician from the turn of the 19th century, is considered by most to be the father of modern neuroscience. He stared down a microscope day and night for years, fascinated by chemically stained neurons he found in slices of human brain tissue. By hand, he painstakingly drew virtually every new type of neuron he came across using nothing more than pen and paper. As the Charles Darwin for the brain, he mapped every detail of the forest of neurons that make up the brain, calling them the “butterflies of the brain”. Today, 200 years later, Blue Brain has found a way to dispense with the human eye, pen and paper, and use only mathematics to automatically draw neurons in 3D as digital twins. Math can now be used to capture all the “butterflies of the brain”, which allows us to use computers to build any and all the billons of neurons that make up the brain. And that means we are getting closer to being able to build digital twins of brains.

These billions of neurons form trillions of synapses – where neurons communicate with each other. Such complexity needs comprehensive neuron models and accurately reconstructed detailed brain networks in order to replicate the healthy and disease states of the brain. Efforts to build such models and networks have historically been hampered by the lack of experimental data available. But now, scientists at the EPFL Blue Brain Project using algebraic topology, a field of Math, have created an algorithm that requires only a few examples to generate large numbers of unique cells. Using this algorithm – the Topological Neuronal Synthesis (TNS), they can efficiently synthesize millions of unique neuronal morphologies.

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