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Sequencing the Connectome: Determining the Brain's Wiring Diagram

11/18/2010

Sequencing the Connectome: Determining the Brain's Wiring Diagram

11/18/2010

Investigator: Dr. Anthony Zador
Institution: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (Cold Spring Harbor, New York)
Project Title: Sequencing the Connectome: Determining the Brain's Wiring Diagram
Award Amount: $1.6 million (2010)

Understanding how the billions of neurons of the brain are connected – the brain's wiring diagram – would transform neuroscience research. It would bring to light not only possible malformation of these connections that can, early in life, lead to mental retardation, autism or schizophrenia but also the loss of the connections which, later in life, is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. Microscopy presents considerable challenges in such brain research. This Allen Distinguished Investigator and his team is developing a novel approach based on high-throughput DNA sequencing technology. This sequencing technology is the same as that used to sequence the genome, but it has not previously been applied in the context to neural connectivity. Sequencing is already fast – sequencing billions of individual pieces of DNA in a single day is now routine – and, like microprocessor technology, getting faster and cheaper exponentially. Thus by converting brain connectivity from a problem of microscopy to a problem of sequencing, it is rendered tractable using current techniques. The research project has succeeded in generating all the molecular components needed for a proof-of-concept for this revolutionary endeavor.