Gene mapping opens new insights into the brain

30 August 2011

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Category: Research & medical benefits

invitro–brain–cell.jpgA map of gene activity has been created that scientists hope will shed new light on the causes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The research is the most detailed analysis to date of gene activity in the brains of mice.

Neurons in the cortex of mammalian brains, including in mice and humans, form six layers which scientists believe contribute to the higher intelligence of mammals. Cells in each layer perform different tasks as a result of genes being turned on and off. By finding out which genes were in use in each layer scientists hope to better understand how the brain works and how neurological diseases affect it.

The researchers determined the activity of genes by measuring mRNA levels. mRNA is a molecule produced by an active gene, carrying the information held within the gene to other parts of the cell where protein is made using that information. Unlike in previous studies, scientists looked at every gene in the genome, which meant they could build a comprehensive map of which genes were turned on and off in each layer. They were then able to look at specific genes linked to disease. For example, genes involved in Parkinson’s disease were especially active in layer five.

The data have been made freely available allowing scientists from around the world to look at the huge amount of information in detail, and determine how specific genes contribute to brain activity and disease.

See also the page on Alzheimer's disease and our page on Parkinson's disease