TOPIC: A Universal Story of Life and What Makes Us ‘Who We Are’ at the Cellular Level

Creative Approach:

The showcase of the exhibition, Life of a Neuron is a 20-minute immersive audio-visual experience that illustrates a universal life story from a neuron’s perspective from the cellular level.

The installation presents the corresponding stages of neural development through a human’s life in six chronological stages: pre-birth, birth, development, adolescence, adulthood, and finally age and death. 

  • Our story begins with a celebration of life beginning. Visitors are introduced to the hero neuron in the pre-birth stage of life, identifiable through the use a black and white color scheme. What occurs to neurons prior to birth is largely a mystery to scientists as it is difficult to witness and study neurons in utero. 
  • A transition to the warm embrace of the hues of maroon and red indicate the upcoming birth, signified through the arrival of yellow tones into the space. For the brain, introduction of oxygen- the very moment of birth – is a pivotal moment.
  • During an individual’s development as a child, the hero neuron is growing rapidly. An increasingly complex slate of colors – including yellows, greens, blues, and hints of purple and pink – begins to reflect the multi-faceted stimuli that our hero neuron must address. The development period is marked through three primary sources of education – experimentation, learning, and curiosity – that define the important skills gained during this time. 
  • Development leads into adolescence, where the color slate intensifies into bright neons as the type of new experiences intensifies. The type, number, and complexity of synaptic connections grows, constantly changing shape in response to the new information coming in. The matrix of circuits is layering, and then relayering, itself to create stronger synaptic bridges, and actively pruning those connections deemed to be unnecessary. This is why the human brain during adolescence is often referred to as a ‘ball of clay,’ the metaphor indicates the extent to which the brain will be shaped during this period. 
  • Arriving after adolescence, our hero neuron has reached adulthood. An explosion of color and a fully grown neuron represent the challenges that face a fully grown adult. Here, the neuron contends with the kinds of rewards, stresses, traumas, and choices of an individual’s lifestyle. Specific stimuli that our hero neuron is processing includes memories stored in the synapses, emotion, stress, exercise, rest, and sleep. 
  • As with any cycle of life, the narrative of our hero neuron ends with its aging and eventual death. Visually indicated through a loss of the vibrancy of the colors of prior life chapters, here, the hero neuron is shrinking, reatracing from others around itr, ultimately operating with slower pace of processing.  The slower pace protects the neuron from too much activity, but the plasticity of the neuron thus plateaus, and the neuron is less able to change. Ultimately, the hero neuron dies when it loses the energy to maintain the correct balance – referred to as polarization- required to control the correct chemical ions within. 

Scientific Background:

The use of a human prefrontal cortex “hero neuron” is the key scientific achievement to be noted. Most other neuron samples used in research either come from monkeys or mice. Our “hero neuron” is the only fully reconstructed human prefrontal cortex with EM data combined, at the quality level we possess. The focus on the prefrontal cortex neuron is key to the exhibition’s human experience narrative, as it is the specific type of neuron that makes us so human. It is highly plastic and processes new information every second. This ability to be renewed every day through learning and experience is rare in other forms of life, making it a uniquely human quality.

ARTECHOUSE Production 

CONCEPT & CREATIVE DIRECTION: Sandro Kereselidze, Riki K.

ARTISTS: Gil Castro, Simon Alexander-Adams, Emmett Feldman, Scott Pagano, Josef Pelz

SCRIPT: Stephen Laughton

SOUNDTRACK: CONCEPT & CREATIVE DIRECTION Sandro Kereselidze, COMPOSITION & SOUND DESIGN: Mehmet Ünal StudioLEAD NEUROSCIENTISTS: John Morrison, PhD, Dani Dumitriu, MD, PhD, MD, PhD, Corrado Cali, PhD, William Janssen, Matt Wimsatt, MFA, CMI, Kristin Anderson, PhD