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New Neutron-Based Imaging Method to Visualize Structural Changes in the Brain Could Help Diagnose Neurological Diseases

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 25 Feb 2022
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Image: 3D polarized light imaging scan of a mouse brain (Photo courtesy of Axer, Amunts et al. / INM-1, Forschungszentrum Jülich)
Image: 3D polarized light imaging scan of a mouse brain (Photo courtesy of Axer, Amunts et al. / INM-1, Forschungszentrum Jülich)

Researchers have developed a neutron-based method to study brain slices and gain a better understanding of neurological diseases and mental disorders.

Researchers at the Forschungszentrum Jülich (Jülich, Germany) have developed a new imaging method to map the density, structure, and spatial orientation of nerve fibres and myelin. The brain can be divided into so-called grey matter and white matter. The white matter contains the axons that transmit stimuli. For faster stimulus transmission, the axons are wrapped in an insulating layer of myelin, in the same way as a cable is wrapped in rubber insulation to ensure that no electricity is lost along the way. If the myelin sheath is damaged or degraded, this leads to impaired brain and body functions. In multiple sclerosis, for example, the insulating myelin layer is severely impaired. However, the exact causes of the disease are still unclear.

With the help of neutrons, the researchers can now for the first time determine both structure and orientation, and correlate these with polarization measurements. A special feature of the new method is that it allows scientists to image the axons bundled into nerve fibers at the same time as the insulating myelin sheath. With their new method, the researchers hope to better understand the causes of neurological diseases in the future by being able to visualize structural changes in the brain more completely. The resolution of the new method is still in the millimeter range. However, the researchers expect that measurements precise to the micrometer will be possible in the future. This will enable them to study even the smallest structures in biological tissues.

"For a long time now, it has been possible to determine the spatial orientation of nerve fibres in brain slices using light microscopy and polarization, but the exact structure and orientation of the myelin on the molecular scale cannot be detected using light," said Dr. Heinrich Frielinghaus from the JCNS. "With our neutron-based method, we can confirm the results of previous methods and provide additional information."

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Forschungszentrum Jülich

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