July 13, 2009

Active genes found in budding mammal brain

U.S. scientists studying a mammal's early brain development have found evidence of a large number of genes, including those linked to neurological disorders.

The Pennsylvania State University study led by Professor Hong Ma and Associate Professor Gong Chen is the first to use high-throughput sequencing to uncover active genes in developing brains. The results, said the researchers, might lead to development of drugs or gene therapies for neurological disorders such as autism and mental retardation.

In the study, the team sequenced millions of messenger-RNA molecules, which carry genetic information from DNA molecules to protein molecules. The researchers obtained the RNA from the brains of mice and discovered more than 16,000 genes -- more than half of the mouse's entire set of known genes -- are involved in the brain's development and functions.

Some of the genes the researchers discovered are known to be matched to the human genes involved in neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, autism and some forms of mental retardation.

Our results can help to pinpoint the specific time during brain development when the genes related to certain diseases are active, said Ma. This knowledge may help other scientists to develop drugs or gene therapies that can treat the diseases.

The research appears in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.