Autism BrainNet to digitize the Autism Celloidin Libray of postmortem brains

By Serena Bianchi

High magnification view of brain cells from a brain section of the Autism Celloidin Library (40x magnification). Image obtained from Patrick Hof/Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The brain is the main organ affected in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet little is known about the neuropathological changes linked to the condition. To facilitate autism research using postmortem brain tissue, Autism BrainNet is now supporting an effort to make the Autism Celloidin Library digital.

Started in the early 2000s under the auspices of Autism Speaks as part of the Autism Tissue Program (now managed by Autism BrainNet), the Autism Celloidin Library comprises 28 postmortem brains from 14 donors with ASD and 14 neurotypical individuals, ranging from 4 to 50 years old. These brains have been treated with a preparation called ‘celloidin,’ sliced into thin sections and colored with a substance that allows seeing cells, cortical layers and regional structure under the microscope.

This resource, which is now part of the Autism BrainNet brain collection, is housed at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Autism BrainNet collaborator Patrick Hof is leading the digitalization process one slide at a time.

“The Autism Celloidin Library is a unique resource for exploratory studies as well as large-scale histopathological investigations. These studies are instrumental to understanding cell population-specific changes in the brains of individuals with ASD,” says Hof.

Close-up view of the amygdala, a brain structure involved in processing emotions, from a slide of the Autism Celloidin Library. Image obtained from Patrick Hof/Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

By creating a digital repository of the collection, Autism BrainNet aims to make this resource widely accessible to interested researchers and to create a permanent digital tissue record. This will ensure a broad use of the collection for research studies without risking compromising the quality and integrity of the specimens, which are mounted on large glass slides and are, therefore, extremely fragile.

To maximize the value of the collection for the scientific community, Hof and his colleagues also plan to annotate the digitized slides with detailed information about the cellular organization of the tissue. This will provide an anatomical guide to researchers and help them conduct high-quality analyses.

To date, over 20 published studies have used the Autism Celloidin Library. This research has provided insights into neuropathological differences in neuron number, density and volume across several cortical and subcortical regions of the brain of people with ASD (e.g., 1-9).

“We are excited to digitize the collection,” says Marta Benedetti, SFARI senior scientist and Autism BrainNet managing director. “Our goal is to provide an easy-to-access resource to study the cellular neuropathology of ASD, while ensuring the conservation of these unique materials for years to come.”

Images from the collection will be made available for research purposes in Spring 2022, via SFARI Base.

Interested researchers can contact [email protected] for further information.


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