An exhaustive map of the human brain has been a long-sought goal of neuroanatomists. Noninvasive imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allow scientists to investigate the healthy living human brain but provide only limited anatomical detail. A higher level of detail can be obtained by using microscopy on brains from deceased donors, generally focusing on small brain structures imaged in 2D. Now a team led by scientists from the UvA, have combined MRI and microscopy to produce 3D images of two entire brains with a previously unmatched level of detail. Their findings have been published in the journal Science Advances.

The UvA team worked for over five years, alongside researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, to build a bridge between ultra-high field MRI and microscopy approaches to creating images of the brain. Two human brains donated to science were placed in the MRI scanner for 21 hours, and afterwards examined under the microscope. The MRIs were then combined with the microscopy slides, resulting in images of the brains which allow for exploration at a 200mm (0.2mm) level of detail.  

We are excited about all the possibilities this can open up for the field. Instructors, for example, can use the datasets for neuroanatomy trainings or virtual dissections. And being able to compare MRI results with individual proteins visualised using microscopy will give researchers more insight into poorly understood MRI observations, as well as providing more anatomical detail on small brain structures.
Team member Anneke Alkemade

Following Open Science principles, the researchers have made their data available free of cost as a service to the field. Scientists and other interested parties from around the world can now travel through the resulting 3D reconstructions of the human brain.  

View the 3D reconstruction here


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A unified 3D map of microscopic architecture and MRI of the human brain’, in: Science Advances (27 April 2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj7892