Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Map of Gene Expression in the Human Brain Created

The Allen Institute in Seattle has created a map of gene expression for the entire human brain. This "atlas" allows scientists to see which genes are activated in which parts of the brain. In order to collect this data, researchers had to acquire two preserved brains (both from men of similar ethnicity). The researchers then scanned the brains in an MRI machine before cutting the brains up along very specific regions. They then conducted a genetic analysis on every piece of brain matter to determine how much gene expression occurred and which genes specifically were expressed. The results demonstrated that up to 84% of genes are expressed throughout the brain. Gene expression was similar but not identical between the various cortexes of the brain. Other parts of the brain, like the brain stem, exhibit much different gene expression. Because the men were of similar age and ethnicity, researchers cannot be absolutely certain that this map will be accurate for everyone, but the gene expression map was so similar between the two brains that they suspect it may remain accurate for others. 

This study is significant in a number of ways. Firstly, its findings and the resulting map will allow neuroscientists to study the implications that the gene expression of actual humans has on human behavior and on the rest of the nervous system. Currently, many neuroscientists have had to study the maps of mice because of the difficulties in mapping human brains. This map is also useful because knowing what genes are activated in what specific regions will allow scientists to point to specific genetic abnormalities when nerve cell communication does not work properly.


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