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Image of the Week: Neuronal Connections

3 Jan, 2014

Painting by by Prof Bill Harris

Painting has been a long time hobby of Prof. Bill Harris, Head of the department for Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at University of Cambridge. This image is one of a series of Prof. Harris’ acrylic paintings, and was inspired by a high-resolution electron micrograph of the neuropilar region of the brain’s cerebral cortex.

The cerebral cortex (often referred to as grey matter) is made up of thin layers of tissue on the outer part of the brain; it is responsible for cognitive processes such as perception, attention, memory, language, and problem solving.

Electron micrographs are initially captured as black and white images, and it can be extremely challenging for scientists to identify different elements. Often false colour is applied to help mark different processes, like axons working to transmit information or dendrites conducting signals.

In this painting, Prof Harris has depicted the axons in yellow and the dendrites blue. Inside the axons and dendrites you can see cytoskeletal elements (which help to support the cell’s shape and function), and various types of vesicles. The green cells were included for colour and an additional element of interest (as enthused by the artist); they represent the glia, oligodendrocytes, which wrap around axons providing support and insulation, though are not often seen in neuropil.

Finally, the ‘mysterious red processes’ as described by Prof. Harris, are there to represent that there is much in an electron micrograph of a neuropil that will never be easy to assign a cell type or function to.

Image credit: Prof. Bill Harris, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Liam Lambert permalink
    7 Jan, 2014 3:07 pm

    I love the mix of science and art. The creative use of colours sure simplifies the understanding of the various parts of the brain

  2. 7 Jan, 2014 3:44 pm


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