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State-of-the-art tissue-clearing methods provide subcellular-level optical access to intact tissues from individual organs and even to some entire mammals. When combined with light-sheet microscopy and automated approaches to image analysis, existing tissue-clearing methods can speed up and may reduce the cost of conventional histology by several orders of magnitude. In addition, tissue-clearing chemistry allows whole-organ antibody labelling, which can be applied even to thick human tissues. By combining the most powerful labelling, clearing, imaging and data-analysis tools, scientists are extracting structural and functional cellular and subcellular information on complex mammalian bodies and large human specimens at an accelerated pace. The rapid generation of terabyte-scale imaging data furthermore creates a high demand for efficient computational approaches that tackle challenges in large-scale data analysis and management. In this Review, we discuss how tissue-clearing methods could provide an unbiased, system-level view of mammalian bodies and human specimens and discuss future opportunities for the use of these methods in human neuroscience.