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Allen Brain Explorer
The Allen Brain Explorer can display a virtual mouse brain in 3-D. (Allen Institute for Brain Science)

The Allen Institute for Brain Science has added about 900 virtual mouse brain cells to its Allen Cell Types Database, bringing the total to slightly more than 1,900 cells available for study.

But wait: There’s more.

Today’s release also includes a new, browser-based beta version of a 3-D viewer called the Allen Brain Explorer, which lets users explore the anatomy and connectivity maps for the mouse brain. The Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas has been freshened up with more information. More details about RNA transcription in mouse, human and macaque brain cells have been added as well.

The upgrades are all part of the open-science mission for the Allen Institute, which Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen created in 2003 and has supported to the tune of half a billion dollars.

Bigger data sets should provide neuroscientists with a richer description of cellular complexity, and flesh out a “periodic table” of brain cell types.

“We use different aspects of the cells — their gene activity, their shape, where they send the information to, their electrical behavior — to come up with classifications that have biological meaning,” David Feng, associate director of technology at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, said today in a news release. “Understanding the properties of cells in the brain is a critical step toward understanding how the brain works.”

The newly released single-cell data sets about human and macaque brains were produced in collaboration with teams at the UW Medicine and the Swedish Neuroscience Institute. The data should help researchers gain a better understanding of the differences between human brains and animal models.

“Diseases that affect the brain may start from a specific part of the brain or even a specific cell type,” said Bosiljka Tasic, associate director of molecular genetics at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “To know where a disease starts — and ultimately how to treat it — we have to understand the individual building blocks of the brain.”

In addition to the new version of the Allen Brain Explorer, the institute is releasing a beta version of its RNA-Seq Data Navigator, which helps researchers visualize categories of brain cells based on gene similarity patterns.

Like all of the brain institute’s online resources, the data and the analysis tools are freely available to researchers around the world at no cost.

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