What am I looking at? A striking mystery

Portuguese Version

EDITION 5

The images created during the daily scientific and medical endeavours at the Champalimaud Foundation can be as beautiful and compelling as any work of art. To the untrained eye, these images might also appear baffling, but, if you know what you’re looking at, they may just reveal information that can spark discoveries, contribute to the improvement of patient quality of life and maybe even alter our understanding of reality.

Through a combination of images, sound and text, each edition of this series asks Champalimaud Foundation researchers and clinicians to consider images from their own work, decoding these complex visuals and deepening our understanding of their work through this simple question: “What am I looking at?”

“Shattered glass, lightning against a night sky, or perhaps the sprawling roots of a plant? Or maybe a network of veins, or the tributaries of a river delta? None of these: what we’re looking at is a close-up of a single brain cell, or neuron, captured using a technique called confocal microscopy.

The white circle is the cell body, the command centre from which branches known as dendrites radiate. Dendrites function like the neuron’s antennae. The more there are, the more messages it can receive from other cells. Dotted along the dendrites are tiny bumps—akin to leaves on a branch—which vary in size and shape and form crucial points of connection and communication with other neurons.

Changes in the number or size of these bumps might be linked to the involuntary muscle contractions in dystonia, a disorder in which muscles contract uncontrollably. Studying these changes in the striatum, a brain area responsible for movement control, in mice with dystonia could help us to better understand and eventually treat this challenging condition.”

Credits
Original Idea: John Lee
Concept Development & Curation: António Monteiro, Carla Emilie Pereira, Catarina Ramos, Diana Cadete, Hedi Young, João Van Zelst, John Lee, Marta Correia and Teresa Fernandes
Source (Text & Image): Champalimaud Research Neural Circuits Dysfunction Lab (Alves da Silva Lab)
Script: Hedi Young and John Lee
Design: Carla Emilie Pereira
Narration: Hedi Young and Marta Correia
Sound: João Van Zelst
Translation: Catarina Ramos
Dissemination: Catarina Ramos

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