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Fruit-fly nervous system

Albert Cardona, HHMI Janelia Research Campus

Download this image from Wellcome Collection.

Reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting, this image shows part of the central nervous system in a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Transmission electron micrographs were used to create a digital colour-coded map of the area. An organism’s nervous system controls everything it does, from breathing and moving to thinking and feeling. Instructions to perform these tasks are carried by cells called neurones. A neurone able to sense vibrations (yellow) is surrounded here by lots of other neurones, each depicted as a single line. Messages enter (blue circles) and exit (red circles) neurones at points of contact called synapses. Other features of interest (orange circles), such as mitochondria, are also marked. The width of the image is approximately 15 micrometres (0.015 mm).

How was this image created?

Thin, sequential slices of tissue from a fruit fly larva were imaged by transmission electron microscopy (serial section TEM) and then reconstructed to make a digital 3D model. In this model, different structures were digitally traced or outlined and then colour-coded to form a map of the neural circuits in the area. This image shows neurones and synapses in the neuropil, an area of the central nervous system where neurones connect to each other. As electron microscopy produces images at very high resolution, it can provide lots of fine detail in very small areas. This allows these different structures to be distinguished from each other and reveals just how complex connections in the nervous system can be.