The Real Neuron Challenge

About The Real Neuron Challenge

Built by Blue Brain’s Neuroscientific Software Engineering team, this challenge enables everyone from scientists, to STEM students, to visualize reconstructed and synthesized neurons and decide if they can spot the differences between them. This game shows that it is hard to distinguish which cells are digitally generated and it demonstrates that synthesized neurons are similar to biological in terms of morphological properties.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Spanish physician from the turn of the 19th century, is considered by most to be the father of modern neuroscience. He stared down a microscope day and night for years, fascinated by chemically stained neurons he found in slices of human brain tissue. By hand, he painstakingly drew virtually every new type of neuron he came across using nothing more than pen and paper. As the Charles Darwin for the brain, he mapped every detail of the forest of neurons that make up the brain, calling them the “butterflies of the brain”. Today, 200 years later, Blue Brain has found a way to use only mathematics to automatically draw neurons which allows us to use computers to build any and all the billons of neurons that make up the brain.

In a study published in Cell Reports, Blue Brain Scientists led by Lida Kanari present a novel algorithm for the digital generation of neuronal morphologies, based on the topology of their branching structure. This algorithm – the Topological Neuron Synthesis (TNS) generates neurons that are statistically similar to the biological neurons, in terms of morphological properties, electrical responses and the connectivity of the networks they form. Using this algorithm, Lida Kanari and the team generated artificial neurons from 40 inhibitory and 18 excitatory cell types to produce hundreds of cells, for the Neuroscientific Software Engineering team to build the game.

Find out more about why this study represents a major milestone for the Blue Brain Project and for the future of computational neuroscience.
Read the paper

Kanari, L., Dictus, H., Chalimourda, A., Arnaudon, A., Van Geit, W., Coste, B., Shillcock, J., Hess, K., & Markram, H. Computational synthesis of cortical dendritic morphologies. Cell Reports, 110586.

About the Blue Brain Project

The aim of the EPFL Blue Brain Project, a Swiss brain research initiative founded and directed by Professor Henry Markram, is to establish simulation neuroscience as a complementary approach alongside experimental, theoretical and clinical neuroscience to understanding the brain, by building the world’s first biologically detailed digital reconstructions and simulations of the mouse brain.