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The Brainscapes 2023 winners were announced at the Autumn School in Neuroscience on the 2nd October 2023

First Prize

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Florina Szabo and Marissa Mueller, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics

 Seeing the Bigger Picture.png

This is an image of a mouse brain full-coronal section, which was obtained using spinning disk confocal microscopy at the Oxford’s Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics (Cellular Imaging Core) and in collaboration with Berlin’s Charité University (Eickholt group). This brain section is important as red cells label remnants of the neurodevelopmental subplate–a critical structure which we predict effects other cells (for example, cyan-coloured parvalbumin interneurons and magenta-coloured vicia villosa agglutinin perineural nets) through adulthood. Studying genetic manipulations in these subplate remnant cells implicates the structure as a substrate for the neurodevelopmental origins of brain disease. By better understanding normal and pathological subplate physiology, we aim to inform the development of earlier therapeutic interventions for disorders like autism and epilepsy.

Lay description

While traditional neuroanatomy zooms in to visualise brain areas, zooming out helps researchers understand larger effects. Similarly, zooming out via interdepartmental collaborations (like those needed to produce this image) facilitates discovery. This image represents the widening of lenses and how ‘seeing the bigger picture’–in picture and practice–leads to scientific advancement. 

second prize

Neuronal Nexus

Nick Gatford, Nuffield Dept of Clinical Neurosciences


Healthy control OX3 iPSCs were differentiated into human dopaminergic neurons using the Kriks et al., (2011) protocol. Cells were differentiated up to day 50 at which point they were fixed and stained for neuronal and dopaminergic markers to demonstrate successful differentiation. The image displays MAP2 staining for validation of neuronal identity. The original image was acquired using a 63X objective on a Zeiss 980 Airyscan 2 confocal at the Micron Bioimaging Facility. The image was post-processed in ImageJ where a visually appealing look-up table (MQ-DIV-autumn) was applied, and brightness/contrast settings were modified to highlight signal intensity. Additionally, the image won 1st prize at the Dept. of Biochemistry Centenary imaging contest. 

Lay description

This image shows human dopaminergic neurons generated from stem cells. Dopaminergic neurons are the main cells that deteriorate in Parkinson’s disease, partly due to toxic build-up of a protein called alpha-synuclein. We use these cells to understand how alpha-synuclein causes degeneration so that we may slow or prevent Parkinson’s disease.

Third prize

Illuminating the Brain’s Internal Compass

Shan Jiang, Department of Pharmacology

 Illuminating the Brain’s Internal Compass.jpg

Successful navigation requires the encoding and retrieval of both the current location and the orientation with respect to the surrounding environment. To gain insight into the functioning of the brain's internal compass, I leveraged our laboratory's proficiency in in vivo extracellular recording and juxtacellular labelling techniques, targeting head direction cells in awake mice. Using immunohistochemistry, I was able to visualize single recorded and labelled head direction cells (e.g. cyan) and follow their axons to their synaptic target neurons (e.g. to parvalbumin-expressing cells, magenta). These investigations contribute to our understanding of head direction signalling pathways in mice as well as in humans. This, in turn, holds the potential to aid in the early detection and interpretation of spatial navigation impairments in individuals with mild cognitive impairment, who often become disorientated years before memory problems emerge.

Lay description

Our sense of direction is provided by specialised nerve cells that operate as a 'neural compass.' Here, one such ‘head direction cell’ was labelled (cyan) in a mouse brain. It became active when facing only one direction (spikes, bottom). Signals were sent to other cells (magenta), updating the mouse’s orientation.