Researchers have created the largest atlas of human brain cells so far, revealing more than 3,000 cell types — many of which are new to science. The work, published in a package of 21 papers today in ScienceScience Advances and Science Translational Medicine, will aid the study of diseases, cognition and what makes us human, among other things, say the authors.

The enormous cell atlas offers a detailed snapshot of the most complex known organ. “It’s highly significant,” says Anthony Hannan, a neuroscientist at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia. Researchers have previously mapped the human brain using techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging, but this is the first atlas of the whole human brain at the single-cell level, showing its intricate molecular interactions, adds Hannan. “These types of atlases really are laying the groundwork for a much better understanding of the human brain.”

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