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Welcome to BrainMet

Bioimaging of Metals in Brain and Metallomics

BrainMet (Brainmet - Bioimaging of Metals in Brain and Metallomics) was inaugurated on 9 December 2009 as an innovative and powerful technology for dementia research. The analytical BrainMet centre of excellence at the Central Division of Analytical Chemistry of Forschungszentrum Jülich was founded with expertise and equipment from Thermo Scientific, in cooperation with associates from the medical institutes at Forschungszentrum Jülich, and with partners from Europe and America. The cutting-edge analytical BrainMet technology now available enables assays to be performed concerning the specific quantitative distribution of metals in tissue sections (bioimaging) combined with investigations on the binding of metals to proteins (metallomics) for brain research.


  • Scientific attention has only begun to be focused on the relevance of metals in neuroscience in the first decade of the 21st century, and this is now increasingly becoming the object of fundamental developments and research in various institutions throughout the world.
  • Metals (e.g. Fe, Cu, Zn, Ca, K, Mg, Mn, Mo) are of pre-eminent importance for the living organism as essential mineral elements and are involved in important cellular processes in the brain.
  • In most neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer's disease - AD or Parkinson's disease - PD), abnormal accumulations of metal (plaques) are observed in the brain, and these can lead to the destruction of the neural network and thus to cell death.
  • Metals also play an important part in the occurrence or treatment of other diseases of the brain (Wilson's or Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), depression, epilepsy, tumours).
  • Toxic metals (Cd, Hg, Pb, As, Al, Tl, U, Cu) result in diseases of central nervous system (CNS).
    No studies are yet known on the quantitative distribution of metals combined to analysis of metalloproteins in plaques in samples of diseased brain.State of the Art

State of the Art

  • In the "BrainMet" Group, high-tech analytical techniques have been developed and established in recent years for the quantitative distribution analysis of metals in thin brain slices. The analytical techniques involving laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectroscopy (LA-ICP-MS) are robust, reproducible and provide validated and plausible distribution images of all metals, metalloids (As, Se) and also selected non-metals (C, S, Cl, I).
  • However, as well as images of the distribution of essential metals (Cu, Zn, Fe, Mo, Na, K, Mg etc.) in tissue sections, toxic metals (As, Hg, Pb, U, Th) can also be analysed with high sensitivity. The measured elemental distribution images in the thin brain slices correlate with known anatomical structures.
  • The high-tech analytical methods now established at Forschungszentrum Jülich have already been successfully used in selected studies for the quantitative distribution analysis of healthy and diseased samples of brain tissue (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, depression), and also for investigating the growth of brain tumours.
  • The new BrainMet techniques can now be used for routine examinations of tissue samples for brain research, and are also applicable for other biological samples (tissue sections of plants and animals) as well as in micro- and nanoelectronics.
  • The BrainMet techniques are currently being further refined with the aim of improving the lateral resolution down to the nanometre range. With Nano-BrainMet, distribution analyses will in future be possible on individual cells, cell organelles (e.g. mitochondria) or synapses.

Activities and Priorities

  • Focusing expertise for the further development and dissemination of novel analytical tools in order, for example, to elucidate the relation between metallic ions, metalloproteins, their distribution in brain samples and neurodegenerative diseases and also to make new diagnostic techniques available for therapeutic measures in order, in collaboration with neuroscientists, to solve pressing issues concerning the relation between metallic ions, metalloproteins, their distribution and neurodegenerative diseases and their therapies.
  • The established BrainMet techniques are used for the effective handling of current issues at Forschungszentrum Jülich concerning the function and dysfunction of the nervous system and also to extend worldwide collaborative activities in this field.

Research Topics