Genetic ‘Switches’, Mapped for First Time, Drive Human Brain Development
Some psychiatric disorders that appear later in life originate during earliest stages of brain growth in fetus
UCLA researchers have developed the first map of gene regulation in human neurogenesis, the process by which neural stem cells turn into brain cells and the cerebral cortex expands in size. The scientists identified factors that govern the growth of our brains and, in some cases, set the stage for several brain disorders that appear later in life.
The human brain differs from that of mice and monkeys because of its large cerebral cortex. The organ’s most highly developed part, the cerebral cortex is responsible for thinking, perceiving and sophisticated communication. Scientists are just beginning to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that drive the growth of the human brain and the major role they play in human cognition.
Brain development is guided by the expression of genes in certain brain regions or cell types, as well as during specific time frames. Gene expression, the process by which the instructions in our DNA are converted into a functional product, such as a protein, is regulated at many levels by segments of DNA acting as on–off switches at key moments. But until now, there was no map that described the activity and location of these switches on a chromosome during neurogenesis.
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