The Allen Institute for Brain Science today launched a highly standardized survey of cellular-level activity in the mouse visual system designed to help researchers investigate how circuits in the mouse brain coordinate to drive activity and perception.

The tool, called the Allen Brain Observatory, is intended to lay a foundation for investigators seeking to understanding perception, cognition, and, ultimately, consciousness in mice.

The first data in the Observatory surveys four areas in the mouse visual cortex at multiple depths, sampling a combined 18,000+ neurons. Animals were presented with a variety of visual stimuli to determine the “tuning” or preference of each individual cell to visual features, such as motion and shape orientation, as well as complex images like natural scenes and movies that reveal integrative dynamics of visual processing.

The Observatory presents data from thousands of individual cells and populations of cells in a novel visualization format through the Allen Brain Atlas data portal. Data is accompanied by analysis tools and access to all raw data, which allows scientists to examine how networks of cells in the visual cortex communicate.

“With the Allen Brain Observatory, we’ve taken an important leap into measuring natural brain activity as it is actually happening,” Allen Institute CEO Allan Jones, Ph.D., said in a statement.

The Observatory’s first data release is a survey of neurons in the visual cortex responding to a variety of visual stimuli, ranging from drifting black and white bars to film clips. The data is presented as part of the suite of Allen Brain Atlas tools in Neurodata Without Borders, a uniform and shareable file format that allows researchers worldwide to model the data easily.

More than 100 people at the Allen Institute were involved in the creation of the Allen Brain Observatory. Future releases of the Observatory will also explore the neural circuits that underlie more complex behaviors like decision-making, the Institute said.

“This is a milestone in our quest to decode how the brain’s computations give rise to perception, behavior, and consciousness,” added Christof Koch, Ph.D., the Institute’s president and CSO. “Just like in astronomy, modelers and theoreticians worldwide can now study this wealth of data using their own analysis tools.”

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