Scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature that human brains share a consistent genetic blueprint and possess enormous biochemical complexity. The findings stem from the first deep and large-scale analysis of the vast data set publicly available in the Allen Human Brain Atlas.
The results of this study are based on extensive analysis of the Allen Human Brain Atlas, specifically the detailed all-genes, all-structures survey of genes at work throughout the human brain. This dataset profiles 400 to 500 distinct brain areas per hemisphere using microarray technology and comprises more than 100 million gene expression measurements covering three individual human brains to date. Among other findings, these data show that 84% of all genes are expressed somewhere in the human brain and in patterns that are substantially similar from one brain to the next.
"This study demonstrates the value of a global analysis of gene expression throughout the entire brain and has implications for understanding brain function, development, evolution and disease," said Ed Lein, Ph.D., Associate Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and co-lead author on the paper. "These results only scratch the surface of what can be learned from this immense data set. We look forward to seeing what others will discover."
The results of this study show that, despite the myriad personalities and cognitive talents seen across the human population, our brains are more similar to one another than different. Individual human brains share the same basic molecular blueprint, and deeper analysis of this shared architecture reveals several further findings:
"The tremendous variety of synapses we see in the human brain is quite striking," said Seth Grant, FRSE, Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh and collaborating author on the study. "Mutations in synaptic genes are associated with numerous brain-related disorders, and thus understanding synapse diversity and organization in the brain is a key step toward understanding these diseases and developing specific and effective therapeutics to treat them."
About the Allen Human Brain Atlas
Fully integrating several different kinds of data across different scales of brain exploration, the Allen Human Brain Atlas is an open, public online resource that details genes at work throughout the human brain. Data incorporated into the Atlas include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), as well as histology and gene expression data derived from both microarray and in situ hybridization (ISH) approaches. Users of the Allen Human Brain Atlas comprise a diverse array of biomedical researchers -- primarily neuroscientists -- throughout the world. They include scientists who study the human brain itself, as well as those working in model systems, providing a rare and important opportunity for them to probe the relevance of the findings to humans. Currently, more than 5,000 unique visitors access the Atlas each month.
The Allen Human Brain Atlas is used in small and large-scale applications to examine diseases and disorders, such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease -- as well as to understand how the healthy brain works. The data also allow comparisons between the brains of humans and other animals, with particular relevance for studies of human disease.
The Allen Human Brain Atlas is available via the Allen Brain Atlas data portal at www.brain-map.org.
Hawrylycz M.J., Lein E.S. et al., An anatomically comprehensive atlas of the adult human brain transcriptome, Nature September 20, 2012.
About the Allen Institute for Brain Science
The Allen Institute for Brain Science is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit medical research organization dedicated to accelerating the understanding of how the human brain works in health and disease. Using a team science approach, the Allen Institute generates useful public resources used by researchers and organizations around the globe, drives technological and analytical advances, and discovers fundamental brain properties through integration of experiments, modeling and theory. Launched in 2003 with a seed contribution from founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, the Allen Institute is supported by a diversity of government, foundation and private funds to enable its projects. Given the Institute's achievements, Mr. Allen committed an additional $300 million in 2012 for the first four years of a ten-year plan to further propel and expand the Institute's scientific programs, bringing his total commitment to date to $500 million. The Allen Institute's data and tools are publicly available online at www.brain-map.org.
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