Courtesy of SR Eng
 BABY STAINS: The head of a transgenic murine embryo in which a marker enzyme has been specifically expressed in the sensory neurons of the trigeminal and dorsal root ganglia. The marker allows staining of the projections of these neurons into, among other areas, the hindbrain and spinal cord. (S.R. Eng et al., "Defects in sensory axon growth precede neuronal death in Brn3a-deficient mice," J Neurosci, 21:541-9, 2001.)

Somewhere in the 200 million bases of the human genome is the information necessary to establish the basic wiring pattern of the nervous system. But just how that genetic information gets translated into specialized neurons, properly connected circuits, and the brain's vast information-processing capacity remains largely a black box. Scientists have been whittling away at the problem for decades, and some mechanisms that control neural specification are becoming clear.

One reason: Scientists are studying the brain through the spinal...

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