What makes us human? Detailed cellular maps of the entire human

19 October 2023

An international team of neuroscientists under leadership of Ed Lein and Hongkui Zeng worked on studies to map the cell types that make up the human brain. VU scientists Natalia Goriounova, Christiaan de Kock and Huib Mansvelder and their teams also contributed to this together with neurosurgeons from the VUmc.

In a suite of 21 papers (https://www.science.org/) published on 12 October in special issues of Science, Science Advances, and Science Translational Medicine, the consortium of researchers, brought together by the National Institutes of Health’s BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network program, shares new knowledge about the cells that make up our brains and the brains of other primates. INF contributed to four papers in this package: two published in Science and two papers form Goriounova team published in Science Advances. It’s a huge leap from previously published work, with studies and data that reveal new insights about our nervous systems’ cellular makeup across many regions of the brain and what is distinctive about the human brain.

To characterize brain cells, the molecular signature of gene expression was determined for each cell separately using spatial transcriptomic and snRNA sequencing techniques. The data from the newly released studies will also feed into the Human Cell Atlas, an international effort that is building a comprehensive reference atlas of cells across all organs, tissues, and systems of the human body.

Cell types human temporal cortex
Studying human brain cells in living human brain tissue can only takes place in a limited number of places in the world. It requires close collaboration between neuroscientists and the neurosurgery department, where surgical treatment of epilepsy and tumor patients takes place. In order to study sufficient brain material for the research, laboratories from different countries participated, including Goriounova, Mansvelder and de Kock teams. The studies to which our teams contributed went a step further by studying the consequences of gene expression for cell shape and function of the mapped cell types. The studies show that human temporal cortex, this evolutionarily developed part of the human brain, contains cell types that have distinct functional properties and transcriptomic signature, not seen in mice. The fast functional properties of human cells enable human circuits to remain fast despite large neuron-to-neuron distances in the expanded human brain.