New technologies are allowing us to explore the brain as never before. We are entering a new era in neuroscience where our knowledge of the brain is beginning to match the urgent need to prevent and treat diseases of the brain.



“A new era in brain science”: Unveiling human brain cell atlas

Professor Joseph Ecker, Research Professor Margarita Behrens, co-first authors Jingtian Zhou and Wei Tian, and other Salk colleagues and global collaborators analyzed more than half a million brain cells from three human brains to assemble an atlas of hundreds of cell types that make up a human brain in unprecedented detail. The massive scientific collaboration is a part of the National Institutes of Health’s BRAIN Initiative, an effort launched in 2014 to describe the full plethora of cells in mammalian brains. More detailed work on a larger number of brains, Ecker says, will pave the way toward a better understanding of how certain brain cell types can malfunction in brain disorders and diseases.

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Cell Reports

Repairing nerve cells after injury and in chronic disease

Each year in the United States there are more than 3 million cases of peripheral neuropathy, wherein nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord are damaged and cause pain and loss of feeling in the affected areas. Professor Samuel Pfaff, first author Lydia Daboussi, and colleagues have now uncovered a mechanism in mice for repairing damaged nerves during peripheral neuropathy. The findings have the potential to inspire novel therapeutics that bolster repair functions and heal peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes, injury, genetically inherited disease, infection, and more.

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Assembling the first full epigenomic cell atlas of the mouse brain

In another NIH BRAIN Initiative collaboration of Salk colleagues and global collaborators, Professors Edward Callaway and Joseph Ecker and Research Professor Margarita Behrens worked together to publish four papers in a special feature in Nature with the goal of revolutionizing scientists’ understanding of the brain. The Salk team analyzed more than 2 million brain cells from mice to assemble the most complete mouse brain atlas ever. Altogether, the full 10-paper package details the thousands of cell types present in the mouse brain, how those cells connect, and which genes and regulatory programs are active in each cell.

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Nature Neuroscience

Uncovering key brain pathway mediating panic disorder symptoms

Overwhelming fear, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate—these are the symptoms of a panic attack, which people with panic disorder have frequently and unexpectedly. Creating a map of the regions, neurons, and connections in the brain that mediate these panic attacks can provide guidance for developing more effective panic disorder therapeutics. Now, Associate Professor Sung Han, co-first authors Sukjae Kang and Jong-Hyun Kim, and colleagues have begun to construct that map by discovering a brain circuit that mediates panic disorder. This circuit consists of specialized neurons that send and receive a neuropeptide—a small protein that sends messages throughout the brain—called PACAP. What’s more, they determined that PACAP and the neurons that produce its receptor are possible druggable targets for new panic disorder treatments.

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