AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 2, 2017

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Scientists Catalogue "Parts List" of Brain Cell Types in a Major Appetite Center

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Newly discovered neurons may play a role in obesity

Using Harvard-developed technology, scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have catalogued more than 20,000 brain cells in one region of the mouse hypothalamus. The study revealed some 50 distinct cell types, including a previously undescribed neuron type that may underlie some of the genetic risk of human obesity. This catalog of cell types marks the first time neuroscientists have established a comprehensive “parts list” for this area of the brain. The new information will allow researchers to establish which cells play what role in this region of the brain. “A lot of functions have already been mapped to large regions of the brain; for example, we know that the hippocampus is important for memory, and we know the hypothalamus is responsible for basic functions like eating and drinking,” said lead author John N. Campbell, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of co-corresponding author, Bradford Lowell, MD, PhD. “But we don’t know what cell types within those regions are responsible. Now with the leaps we’ve had in technology, we can profile every gene in tens of thousands of individual cells simultaneously and start to test those cell types one by one to figure out their functional roles.”

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