In recent years, multiple serial histology techniques were developed to enable whole rodent brain imaging in 3-D. The main driving forces behind the emergence of these imaging techniques were the genome-wide atlas of gene expression in the mouse brain, the pursuit of the mouse brain connectome, and the BigBrain project. These projects rely on the use of optical imaging to target neuronal structures with histological stains or fluorescent dyes that are either expressed by transgenic mice or injected at specific locations in the brain. Efforts to adapt the serial histology acquisition scheme to use intrinsic contrast imaging (ICI) were also put forward, thus leveraging the natural contrast of neuronal tissue. This review focuses on these efforts. First, the origin of optical contrast in brain tissue is discussed with emphasis on the various imaging modalities exploiting these contrast mechanisms. Serial blockface histology (SBH) systems using ICI modalities are then reported, followed by a review of some of their applications. These include validation studies and the creation of multimodal brain atlases at a micrometer resolution. The paper concludes with a perspective of future developments, calling for a consolidation of the SBH research and development efforts around the world. The goal would be to offer the neuroscience community a single standardized open-source SBH solution, including optical design, acquisition automation, reconstruction algorithms, and analysis pipelines.
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