Mind Map

Researchers create the first atlas of gene activity in the human brain.

By | September 24, 2012

image: Mind Map

An international team of researchers has created a high-resolution, 3-dimensional map of gene expression in human brains, using donated, whole brains from two males and a single hemisphere from a third man’s brain, according to a new study published last week (September 19) in Nature.

The researchers, led by Michael Hawrylycz of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, created the atlas by assembling transcription data—collected using DNA microarrays—from around 900 precisely cut brain pieces and overlaying them on MRI brain scans of the donated brains taken before dicing. The maps—freely available online—could help scientists test hypotheses of brain function, disease, and evolution.

"By themselves these data do not hold all of the answers for understanding how the brain works," Ed Lein, a neuroscientist at the Allen Institute and co-author of the study, told LiveScience. "However, we hope they serve as a catalyst in human brain research for understanding the brain's complex chemistry and cellular makeup."

For example, scientists studying particular disorders could use imaging techniques, such functional MRI, to assess brain areas involved, then consult the new atlas to evaluate the genes expressed in those regions, which are displayed by a simple, color-coded guide to show the relative level of gene expression. Currently researchers rely on piecemeal studies of mouse brains for such expression information.

Coauthor Seth Grant of Edinburgh University told BBC News that for brain research to progress it is "essential to understand how it makes all of the genes and where they are expressed in the human brain.”

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Avatar of: Dana Merriman

Dana Merriman

Posts: 6

September 24, 2012

Not to detract from the technical accomplishment, but: How does one collect donated tissue from a human patient soon enough after death to ensure that the RNA hasn't degraded, muddling the data? How do gene expression patterns in 2.5 male brains speak for all brains, in health and disease?

Avatar of: HFletcher_679


Posts: 44

September 24, 2012

And one would expect many genes, probably many hundreds, to be expressed on a diurnal rhythm. Where in the sleep-wake cycle were the donors when they expired? Were they comatose? What difference does it make?

Avatar of: jvkohl


Posts: 53

September 24, 2012

Developmental affects on our behavior and associated disease processes are manifestations of the
epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals and pheromones on hormones and
brain development. If we eliminate consideration for the epigenetic
effects of human pheromones, we have an explanation for nutrient
chemical-dependent brain similarities and for how nutrition alters our genetic predispositions for disease, but no explanation for
differences in behavior that are pheromone-dependent in all other

The differences in behavior are species specific and so are
pheromones. What should that tell us about the development of human
personalities, cognitive talents, and mental disorders?

Does it make sense to examine the value of a global analysis of gene
expression throughout the entire brain and its implications for
understanding brain function, development, evolution and disease from
any perspective (e.g., MRI) that does not also include both the epigenetic effects of
nutrient chemicals and the epigenetic effects of pheromones on
intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression in species from
microbes to man?

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