Beauty in Discovery


Photography by Lorena Bianchine Areal, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine

Beauty in Discovery

Opening Minds Through the Art of Science

Did you know that under a powerful microscope, neurons appear to dance as flecks of fluorescent pinks and greens?

Lorena Bianchine Areal, Ph.D., recently captured the two vibrant dancing colors in a photograph, earning her the top In the Lab award for faculty in the 2021 FAU Division of Research’s annual Art of Science photography contest.

Neurons that produce dopamine and serotonin control functions such as sleep, mood, movement, memory and motivation, she said. To better understand the impact of mutations in the two neurotransmission systems, and the impact they have on brain disorders like ADHD and autism spectrum disorder, researchers study the patterns of the systems’ neural movement to and from different parts of the brain. While each system can be observed independently, Areal chose to look deeper into the interconnectedness between the two neurotransmitter systems, generating the fascinating hues in the enlarged mouse brain cortex.

“The pattern generated by the two types of neuronal projections looked interesting to me, especially because these two systems work together to modulate certain brain functions,” Areal said. “We can see very dense projections that come from neurons that are located all the way on the back of the brain, while looking at the front part of the brain. … So, you can imagine how specialized the brain is and how much more there is to see.”

To capture this image, thin sections of brain sample were preserved and prepared, highlighting the dopamine and serotonin neurons, and blue staining of surrounding cells, and then observed using a fluorescent confocal microscope.

“Like other examples of art, art in science is not as simple as snapping a quick picture. From obtaining samples, targeting specific molecules of interest, and then fine tuning the microscope to provide an optimized image took many days of work,” Areal said. “Though taxing at times, the interconnectedness of art in science is widening the lens on the beauty in discovery.”

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