It’s been more than a century since Spanish neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal for illustrating the way neurons allow you to walk, talk, think, and be. In the intervening hundred years, hasn’t progressed that much in how it distinguishes one kind of neuron from another. Sure, , but brain cells are still primarily defined by two labor-intensive characteristics: how they look and .

Which is why neuroscientists around the world are rushing to adopt new, more nuanced ways to characterize neurons. Sequencing technologies, for one, can reveal how cells with the same exact DNA turn their genes on or off in unique ways—and these methods are beginning to reveal that the brain is a more diverse forest of bristling nodes and branching energies than even Ramón y Cajal could have imagined.

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