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A Conversation With Dr. Charles Watson
Dr. Charles Watson, you have developed the world’s most critically-acclaimed atlases, including the Chemoarchitectonic Atlas of the Mouse Brain and The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates. What led you to add The Marmoset Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates to your atlas collection?
The marmoset is a small primate, which is very attractive for laboratory studies of the primate brain. Marmosets are much cheaper and easier to keep than rhesus monkeys, yet possess the same cortical areas seen in humans and rhesus monkeys.
How was this atlas constructed?
We were fortunate in discovering that Hironobu Tokuno in Tokyo had prepared a complete set of sections of a marmoset brain, using all of the standard immunomarkers. The histology in these sections is superb, and we were delighted that Hironobu was willing to let us use these sections. We produced large-format images and progressively labeled them for the atlas.
Besides yourselves, who else was involved in the development of the atlas?
The project was led by George Paxinos, who has worked with me for over 30 years in atlas production. In addition to Hironobu Tokuno, we were joined by two primate neuroanatomy specialists – Professor Marcello Rosa from Monash University, and Professor Michael Petrides from McGill University. With their input, we were able to construct an atlas which is the most complete and accurate primate atlas to date.
What are some of the key features of the atlas?
The first thing that strikes a reader about the atlas is the beautiful histological images – probably the best series in a published atlas to date. However, the real heart of the atlas is the careful delineation of the brain structures, led by George Paxinos. Using our experience based on many previous mammalian brain atlases, George and I were able to produce a unique primate brain atlas, which is unlikely to be surpassed.
The atlas is endorsed by the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics, which is very significant and a testament to the value. Besides members of the Society, what type of audience would benefit from using the atlas?
Obviously the most interested users will be those who work on marmosets. But this atlas offers an enormous amount to all primate researchers. It should also be in collection of every serious neuroscience lab interested in the mammalian brain. If I had to have one atlas in addition to the rat and mouse brain atlases produced from our lab, this is the one I would choose.
Dr. Watson, together with Dr. Paxinos you have developed numerous atlases and neuroanatomy books. What was your first project together, and how did your collaboration come about?
Our first project was The Rat Brain Atlas. We began work about 35 years ago, and the first edition came out in 1982. At that time, we had no idea it would be such an important event in our academic careers. We began our collaboration by accident – George was working on acetylcholinesterase forebrain horizontal sections and was looking for someone to photograph his sections to make a local atlas. I had learned macrophotography with John Johnson at Michigan State University and had a Nikon Multiphot in my lab. I offered to help make the images, which were very impressive. We used this system to make beautiful images which could be used in atlases.
The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates has been cited more than 60,000 times, making it the most-cited publication in neuroscience. The 7th Edition will be publishing in November of this year. Is there anything new and notable in this edition?
There is a lot of new material in the new edition. First of all, we have carefully revised and corrected every diagram in the atlas. Many of the changes are at a micro level, but we have completely revised some areas. For example, we have finally adopted the primate nomenclature for the cingulate and retrosplenial cortical areas. In some areas, we have revised nomenclature to make it consistent with new findings in developmental gene expression. We have included a new section to help naive users find their way around the brain; we call it the mini atlas of the rat brain. Another feature is the completely new series of illustrations of the rat spinal cord, taken from our recently published spinal cord atlas. Finally, we have revised the text of the introduction to make it consistent with the new developmental ontology of the mammalian brain, pioneered by Professor Luis Puelles of Murcia University in Spain.
The 4th edition of The Mouse Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates published last October. What’s new and notable in this edition?
This atlas is authored by George Paxinos and Keith Franklin. This edition is a major upgrade on the third edition, with hundreds of revisions and corrections. This is an essential tool for any lab using mice for neuroscience.
Are there any other new editions of your atlases or neuroanatomy books on the horizon?
George Paxinos and I are working with a team at Duke University to make an MRI atlas of the rat brain. It is clear that MRI will be used by many labs in the future in preference to histology. We have wanted to make an MRI atlas that is compatible with our widely used histological atlas, so that researchers can have the best of both worlds.
The Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting will take place in November in San Diego. Are you planning on attending?
I normally attend SfN, but this year I already have too many travel commitments and will not be in San Diego. However, George will definitely be there!*
*Dr. George Paxinos will be signing copies of the atlases on Tuesday during the lunch break!
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