A Closer Look

The Beauty of #SciArt

Sagittal view of a mouse brain showing various components

Sagittal view of a mouse brain showing various components (the cortico-basal ganglia circuitry) that mediate motor action and are implicated in alcohol and other substance use disorders. (Original appeared in Interstellate, Vol. 1; reprinted with permission)

“Things I’ve seen through a microscope” is the straightforward way Margaret (Meg) Davis, Ph.D., describes her X, formerly known as Twitter, channel, @BrainsRus . Dr. Davis is a retired National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) neuroscientist and anatomist, who remains dedicated to tweeting about and sharing her fascination with “#SciArt”—the dazzling and colorful scenes visible thanks to innovations in neuroscientific imaging.

Scientific images are frequently works of art but languish on computers after their scientific utility has passed. I wanted to share some of these images with a broader audience as art, so I began a Twitter feed,” said Dr. Davis. “Although I’m retired, I still answer anatomy and imaging questions from other scientists and trainees, and share interesting research papers on Twitter.”

Before she retired, Dr. Davis worked as a Staff Scientist with NIAAA Scientific Director David Lovinger, Ph.D., Chief of the Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience (LIN), part of NIAAA’s Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research (DICBR). Dr. Davis’ images (shown here) are possible through the excellent resources within LIN and DICBR, including microscopes for widefield and subcellular imaging. Many more images are featured on her X account and publications. “Throughout her career, Meg also mentored a stellar group of trainees who share her enthusiasm for the artistry in neuroanatomy and imaging,” commented Dr. Lovinger. “Many are now independen­t researchers with their own laboratories, generating eye-popping images discovered in a universe—as Dr. Davis might say—’seen through a microscope.’”

Immunolabeling of a “dendron bouquet” of axons (yellow) shown surrounding a dopamine neuron (blue) in the mouse midbrain

Immunolabeling of a “dendron bouquet” of axons (yellow) shown surrounding a dopamine neuron (blue) in the mouse midbrain. Arrows indicate where the neurons from the striatum make synaptic contact with the dendritic parts of neurons in the substantia nigra. Dopamine release from these neurons is stimulated by substance misuse, including alcohol misuse. These beautiful structures, reminiscent of flower arrangements, help to control dopamine release. (Original appeared in PLOS ONE article)

Dr. Lovinger said, “Meg is an outstanding neuroanatomist with expertise in fluorescence microscopy and immunohistochemistry, and she has an artist’s eye for capturing the stunning beauty of the brain seen through microscopy.” Dr. Davis’ images have adorned several journal covers, he noted, and she also contributed to a cell science exhibit in Paris. “And I still see some of Meg’s artwork displayed in a conference center in Building 1 at the National Institutes of Health,” he said.

Image of a mouse’s cerebellum

Image of a mouse’s cerebellum, the brain region implicated in motor coordination and fine movement control. The Purkinje cells are immunolabeled in turquoise. These neurons are one of the most sensitive cellular targets of both fetal and adult alcohol exposure, contributing to movement and cognitive dysfunction in alcohol use disorder.

Image of a mouse’s cerebellum

#SciArt of a mouse brain created with a tricolor stain, showing nuclei (blue), myelin (turquoise), and somatic RNA (red). This image shows a coronal section of a mouse brain containing several alcohol-sensitive brain regions. This type of staining can be used to look for gross abnormalities produced by alcohol or other neurotoxic agents.