This week, I have been focusing both on collecting pictures of entire neurons and zooming in on their tiniest dendritic branches. When I zoom in close enough, I can even see dendritic spines (they look like dots on the small branches). Dendritic spines are widely considered to be the sites where learning, memory, and plasticity happen at the molecular level. By learning about the physiological functions of spines, I can learn about how neurons communicate with each other. Spines are about 0.5 micrometers (microns) in diameter. The smallest branches have the most spines, and In order to photograph these tiny structures, I use a 63x zoom lens in combination with the lenses in the microscope, and apply an extra 3x zoom with software.
This image shows dendritic branches of a Purkinje cell (a specific type of neuron). In the upper left quadrant of the image, the branches are spiny, which means that they have lots of spines. The spines are the tiny round structures sticking out of the sides of the branches. The thin dendrites have lots of spines, but the larger, wide dendrites have almost no spines. At the bottom of the photo, a cone-shaped tube points inward toward the largest branch. This tube is called a stimulation pipette, and it delivers a pulse of electrical current to stimulate the dendrites.
Just like last week, I fill the neuron with dye for about 30-40 minutes. After this amount of time, the dye starts to reach along the largest branches, through the smaller branches, and into the spines. Once the dye fills the little spines, I focus on the brightest, crispest regions and take some pictures. Since dendrites are three-dimensional structures, I focus the microscope in a plane where I can see as much of the dendrite as possible. Other times, I take photos in multiple planes and then collapse them onto one image.
This image gets up close and personal with one of the tiny dendritic branches. Here, the round spines are easier to see. To zoom in this close on the dendrite, I used a 63x lens combined with the other lenses inside the microscope, and zoomed in another 7x using software. One spine is about 0.5 micrometers in diameter.
In the upcoming weeks of The Bridge residency, I’m hoping to print some of my neurons on canvas and test out using paint and textured materials add to the images. Richelle and I discussed ways to print neurons on canvas, and what materials create exciting effects when layered onto these pictures.
Check back next Tuesday for more updates!
New drawings are in progress! Our first collaboration is in full swing after learning more about Dana’s projects in neurobiology. Dana recently sent me a series of images created using calcium imaging. Essentially, she fills each individual neuron with dye and collects imagery using software that coincides with her microscope, enabling her to manipulate color and texture. We’ve discussed the stunning structural properties of a neuron – they resemble trees, roots, coral reef forms, veins, social media diagrams, and many other network forms.
Images above include: Dana’s neuron, tree roots, coral, cracked concrete, aerial view of deltas and streams, social media map of friends
Currently, I am an artist-in-residence at ICB Art Association in Sausalito, CA and I am creating a series of new drawings entitled Intertwined, which merge social, biological, technological, and material networks to imply our complex interconnectivity in life. For example, I visually integrate the Wi-Fi symbol into the lower ladder of a DNA strand, link telephone lines to strands of a spider web, and illustrate octopus tentacles merging into branches of a coral reef. Now, I am thrilled to incorporate the neurons that Dana examines in her lab, into these drawings.
This image shows Dana’s neuron that I incorporated into plant roots in a new drawing in progress.
Brainstorming where to draw more neurons.
I place her images in various locations to see where to draw more neurons – it is crucial to place it in an area of that has similar forms to reveal a metamorphosis of form and content. An exciting observation reveals that these neuron images mirror the tree, the roots, and the plant in the foreground drawing. This is part of the brainstorming process before using ink, charcoal, colored pencil, watercolor, and graphite to illustrate her imagery. Additionally, I am mimicking the colors and textures of the images she provided because it reveals her own creative interpretations of these neuron forms.
View of four drawings entitled Intertwined in progress.
After several more hours in the studio, you can see that the drawing of the neuron morphs into plant roots, octopus tentacles, another flowering plants, and pink coral. The black and white image is another photo from Dana…I am pondering where to fit it in!
Up next, I am excited to include a cluster of neurons that Dana sent over. She uses an immunohistochemistry technique, which shows multiple neurons together, resembling a forest. I look forward to adding these in.