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Allen Reference Atlas. A Digital Color Brain Atlas of the C57BL/6J Male Mouse H. W. Dong John Wiley and Sons , 2008 . ix + 366 pp. $208.50 (spiral bound + CD-ROM) . ISBN 978-0-470-05408-6

With the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in the recent past, there is much to consider. In addition to finding out what Chicago had to offer (it was likely less well known to the members on either coasts or the several thousands that come from overseas) and possible equipment and supply purchases that can be visited at the vendor, another rite of fall is the visit to Publisher's Row—books to examine and the ones to buy. With this in mind, and your list hopefully not lost, let me start you off with an item that may be of interest: the ‘llen Reference Atlas—A Digital Color Brain Atlas of the C57BL/6J Male Mouse’ by Hong Wei Dong. This atlas in its spiral-bound form is meant to be a companion to the hugely valuable ‘llen Brain Atlas of the Mouse Brain’ which ‘s an interactive, genome-wide image database of gene expression’.

This atlas on the one hand is similar to its related volumes, but it also has substantial additions such as a lengthy foreword/introduction which is welcome in an atlas and provides a good backdrop to what follows. The historical context of brain atlases follows the reader through the purely anatomical to the chemical and tract tracing neuroanatomy which provided dynamic new perspectives on the organization of cells and nuclei in the central nervous system. The next stop, and where this volume sits as an invaluable source book, is molecular neuroanatomy that was heralded by the introduction of in situ hybridization histochemistry and then its massively parallel use in the construction of online databases such as GenePaint (http://www.eurexpress.org/ee/) and the Allen Brain Atlas (http://www.brain-map.org/). One element that emerges from this effort is that the boundaries of traditional structures are able to be more precisely redefined in the light of expression patterns.

The meat of the volume, however, is the atlas and here it can be judged from at least three perspectives. First, as a stand-alone atlas. Here this volume is a mixed bag. It is not as detailed as one would like and for the coronal sections, half of the image is taken up by a schematic drawing of the brain to indicate what regions you may be looking at in the Nissl-stained material. It is nice to have this extracting and schematizing of the brain but it is also a bit distracting because in some cases, it does not faithfully match the Nissl-stained section and presents but half a brain. It is always nice to match structures based upon bilateral symmetry.

Second, as a compendium to the hugely successful online Allen Brain Atlas, it is excellent. Although one can access these images from the Allen site, it permits one to stay focused on the in situ images and not have to go between the labeled images and the schematic. This makes for a more efficient and informed use of the online atlas.

Third, although this feature may not find as much use as might be warranted, on the obligatory CD that comes with the atlas, there is also a set of PDFs of the brain sections that could be used to map out data obtained from the analysis of brain sections. Thus, one can print out regions of brain and use them to map out the injections, immunostained areas, lesions or one's own in situ data.

The atlas also provides initial glimpses at the computational, database, imaging and informatics aspects of neuroanatomy which will see an increasing role in our appreciation of connectivity and organization of the brain. In this way, this atlas acts not only as a key companion to the Allen Reference Atlas but also as a harbinger of things to come.