Nervous System Network
The brain and nervous system are some of the most complex tissues in the human body. For centuries, studying them has been a daunting prospect due to their relative inaccessibility and scale (there are more than 86 billion neurons in the brain alone).
Recent large-scale efforts have launched a new generation of studies that aim to identify the molecular and cellular characteristics of the brain and how these translate into normal brain function—or, in the case of disease, dysfunction. These efforts include the Allen Brain Cell Atlas, which has created anatomical and transcriptional atlases of the human brain, the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative — which is accelerating the development and application of new single-cell genomic and spatial transcriptomic technologies and their application to the human brain — and disease-oriented cell atlasing efforts such as the Seattle Alzheimer’s Disease Brain Cell Atlas (SEA-AD).
The BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) has laid critical groundwork for a Human Brain Cell Atlas by funding transformative initiatives that have developed next-generation technologies to explore the brain and nervous system. These efforts have now produced the first draft cell atlas of the entire brain and a detailed cell atlas of the regions of the cerebral cortex; both contributed here to support the Human Cell Atlas goal to complete a catalog of all of the cell types and subtypes of the human brain and nervous system.
These atlases are only part of the work supported by BICCN to establish single-cell technologies and scale them to the complexities of the human nervous system. This work has now led to a package of publications in the journal Science that represent the breadth and scope of what is now possible to do in the human and closely related non-human primate (NHP) brain (see Publications tab). These include a range of studies using single-cell genomics (RNA-seq, ATAC-seq, methylation, and spatial transcriptomics) to study cellular organization in adult and developing human and NHP brains, as well as studies of the phenotypic characteristics of neuron types in the human brain.
Current work in the Nervous System BioNetwork is largely performed under the umbrella of the BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network (BICAN). BICAN’s goal is to create comprehensive cell atlases of the human and NHP brain in adult and development, spatial common coordinate frameworks to integrate data and bridge scales, and cross-species mappings of cellular and spatial architecture that align results across human and important mammalian model organisms for biomedical research.