This alien-like image is all in your head. Really. It's an oligodendrocyte - a specialized brain cell that secretes a coating that protects the nerve cells in your brain. As described in an Inside Stanford Medicine story, this cell is composed of tinsel-like filaments of protein, called actin (shown here in green) and regulatory proteins (shown in red).
Researchers don't yet know how the nerve coating, called the myelin sheath, is formed by oligodendrocytes. But one theory is that the process is powered by regulatory proteins (in red) that create a network of the protein filaments (in green).
From the Stanford story:
"The oligodendrocyte is one of the most beautiful examples of cell specialization in nature," said Brad Zuchero, PhD, the Stanford postdoctoral scholar in neurobiology who prepared the cultured rat brain cells for imaging. "Being able to visually compare healthy and damaged oligodendrocytes in this much detail ultimately will help us treat nervous system diseases such as multiple sclerosis, which are associated with damage to myelin."
The expert behind this exquisite oligodendrocyte image is Andrew Olson, PhD, director of microscopy at the Stanford Institute for Neuro-Innovation & Translational Neurosciences. He captured it using a relatively new imaging technology, called a structured illumination super-resolution microscope. This microscope fills a 10-foot-square office and costs about $700,000. It consists of precision motorized platforms to position the sample; lasers and optical components that produce finely patterned illuminations of the sample; scientific cameras; and high-powered analysis software.
Photo by Brad Zuchero and Andrew Olson