Argonne National Laboratory Brain Initiative


Argonne maintains a wide-ranging science and technology portfolio that seeks to address complex challenges in interdisciplinary and innovative ways. Below is a list of all articles, highlights, profiles, projects, and organizations related specifically to neuroscience.


Narayanan Kasthuri

Forget about it

Even as the power of our modern computers grows exponentially, biological systems — like our brains — remain the ultimate learning machines.

When scientists add or remove a proton (H+) from the perovskite (SmNiO3 (SNO)) lattice, the material’s atomic structure expands or contracts dramatically to accommodate it in a process called ‘lattice breathing,’

Small Brain, Big Data

A neuroscientist and a computational scientist walk into a synchrotron facility to study a mouse brain… Sounds like a great set-up for a comedy bit, but there is no punchline.

Adventures of the first neuroscientist at Argonne

Bobby Kasthuri wants to map the human brain. Unlike most brain researchers, he wants a literal map: a three-dimensional picture of every single neuron inside a brain.

Simulation of a brain showing an unusual configuration of a neuron: one axon (blue) connected to multiple points on a dendrite (green).

Unprecedented detail of intact neuronal receptor offers blueprint for drug developers

The NMDA receptor is a massive, multi-subunit complex.

Chemical link for hearing and balance found that could aid deafness and vertigo treatments

Researchers have mapped the precise 3-D atomic structure of a thin protein filament critical for cells in the inner ear and calculated the force necessary to pull it apart.

Inner ear hair cells that convert a mechanical stimulus-like sound or head movement into neural signals.

Brain Iron as an Early Predictor of Alzheimer’s Disease

Blood vessel simulation probes secrets of brain

Neural modeling helps expose epilepsy’s triggers

A brain scan of a person experiencing an epileptic seizure looks like the Great Plains during an early evening in midsummer. Fierce electrical storms pop up seemingly at random, proliferate over large areas and subside almost as quickly as they arose.

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Neuroscience | Argonne National Laboratory


Neuroscientist leads unprecedented research to map billions of brain cells

Mapping the brain: Chicago researchers connect the network


OCTOBER 7, 2015

By Amanda Koehn

A comprehensive map of the human brain is in the works with the promise of eventually creating new neurological treatments and diagnoses for mental illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.

The BRAIN Initiative researchers at the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and in labs around the country are in the beginning stages of mapping, starting with mice and moving up the scale to humans.

Neurons and the neural networks of the brain (Dr. Bobby Kasthuri and The Lichtman Lab, Harvard University)

Photos: Neurons and neural networks of the brain (Courtesy of Dr. Bobby Kasthuri, The Lichtman Lab, Harvard University)

Creating this human brain map would require the equivalent of half the digital storage of all the hard drive space on earth. The feat has been compared in scale to the Human Genome Project and the moon race, although with a less defined endpoint in mind.

The National Institutes of Health recently announced $85 million in funding for the BRAIN Initiative for 2015. So far it has over $300 million in funding, from the NIH, the Food and Drug Administration and other public and private groups combined.

A recent program, “What is the BRAIN Initiative?” gave researchers the opportunity to explain the initiative and answer questions at the Hughes Auditorium on Northwestern University’s Lakeshore campus.

The event, hosted by the Chicago Council on Science and Technology, Argonne and the Chicago Society of Neuroscience, featured three area researchers to explain their latest work bringing us closer to understanding the human brain.

The BRAIN Initiative, or the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, is a federal program started in 2014 to better understand the brain to treat neurological and psychological disorders.

While scientists today generally know what areas of the brain control the dexterity to flip a pancake or to calculate differential equations or experience anxiety, the neural level is a new frontier. Neurons, considered the building blocks of the brain, are cells that transmit information through the brain and spinal cord. Neurons form an elaborate web of networks that are thought to be entirely connected to one another, forming what is called a connectome. This connectome– the neural maze of the brain– is what researchers are trying to map

Dr. Bobby Kasthuri, one of the event speakers, is an MD and neuroscience researcher at Argonne National Laboratory and an assistant professor in neurobiology at the University of Chicago. He explained how his research using electron microscopes to study slivers of mouse brains could lead to a more complete picture of what brain networks look like at the connectome level.

“We still imagine neurons in these beautiful paths and connecting to very specific cells, and what’s incredible about this is it’s probably wrong,” Kasthuri said.

Kasthuri described how slicing mouse brain cells is akin to “cutting spaghetti,” however the result a bit more complex. The samples under a microscope show neurons, which can be traced to connect to one another– the beginnings of a connectome, albeit in mice.

Kasthuri showed the diagram describing the lack of computer storage when you need enough space to map a human brain. He is also an innovator in terms of how he explores the brain images. He crowdsources high school students to trace images of mouse brains, connecting neurons to map his images. At his previous position at Boston University, he recruited some 100 students (who still work with him via Skype) and wants to extend it in Chicago.

“It works great because they are essentially free, but I teach them neuroscience. And somewhere they get the idea that they become committed to the actual research,” Kasthuri said.

John Maunsell, a neurobiology professor at the University of Chicago, said it is a prime time for the BRAIN Initiative. Technological and scientific advances only in the last 10 years have made mapping the brain close to possible, said Maunsell, director of the university’s Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior. Using these tools, scientists are now developing goals of the BRAIN Initiative, which involve creating brain part lists, building wiring diagrams and developing links between brain function and behavior.

“One of the things we are trying to understand now is what makes up attention,” Maunsell said. “It’s actually not just one thing, but instead it’s made up of many distinct neurological mechanisms.”

Tom Macek, scientific director of clinical sciences CNS at Takeda Development Center Americas, explained that the urgency of the BRAIN Initiative for him and many others, is that we desperately need improved treatments for mental illness.

“Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by mental illness,” Macek said. “It affects their thinking, their mood and their ability to relate to others.”

Working in the pharmaceutical industry (his work is does not receive funding from the BRAIN Initiative), Macek cited the high cost for pharmaceutical companies in developing psychiatric drugs. Because we know so little about the brain, failure to produce adequate drugs is common–making testing very costly.

“What this has led to in my industry is that a number of companies are leaving,” Macek said.

He also acknowledged that the BRAIN Initiative in itself could be useful for making science more transparent amongst research peers, since they share a common goal. “It promotes the sharing of information and knowledge in what we would consider a pretty competitive space,” Macek said.


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