Navigation Links
Short DNA strands in the genome may be key to understanding human cognition and diseases

Short snippets of DNA found in human brain tissue provide new insight into human cognitive function and risk for developing certain neurological diseases, according to researchers from the Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The findings are published in the November 20th issue of PLoS Biology.

There are nearly 40 million positions in the human genome with DNA sequences that are different than those in non-human primates, making the task of learning which are important and which are inconsequential a challenge for scientists. Rather than comparing these sequences strand by strand, Schahram Akbarian, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, wanted to identify the crucial set of differences between the two genomes by looking more broadly at the chromatin, the structure that packages the DNA and controls how it is expressed.

They found hundreds of regions throughout the human genome which showed a markedly different chromatin structure in neurons in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that controls complex emotional and cognitive behavior, compared to non-human primates. The findings of the study provide important insights for diseases that are unique to humans such as Alzheimer's disease and autism.

"While mapping the human genome has taught us a great deal about human biology, the emerging field of epigenomics may help us identify previously overlooked or discarded sequences that are key to understanding disease," said Dr. Akbarian. "We identified hundreds of loci that represent untapped areas of study that may have therapeutic potential."

Dr. Akbarian and his research team isolated small snippets of chromatin fibers from the prefrontal cortex. Next, they analyzed these snippets to determine what genetic signals they were expressing. Many of the sequences with human-specific epigenetic characteristics were, until recently, considered to be "junk DNA" with no particular function.

Now, they present new leads on how the human brain has evolved, and a starting point for studying neurological diseases. For example, the sequence of DPP10a gene critically important for normal human brain developmentnot only showed distinct human-specific chromatin structures different from other primate brains such as the chimpanzee or the macaque, but the underlying DNA sequence showed some interesting differences from two extinct primatesthe Neanderthal and Denisovan, most closely related to our own species and also referred to as 'archaic hominins'.

"Many neurological disorders are unique to human and are very hard as a clinical syndrome to study in animals, such as Alzheimer's disease, autism, and depression," said Dr. Akbarian. "By studying epigenetics we can learn more about those unique pieces of the human genome."

The research team also discovered that several of these chromatin regions appear to physically interact with each other inside the cell nucleus, despite being separated by hundreds of thousands of DNA strands on the genome. This phenomenon of "chromatin looping" appears to control the expression of neighboring genes, including several with a critical role for human brain development.

"There is growing consensus among genome researchers that much of what was previously considered as 'junk sequences' in our genomes indeed could play some sort of regulatory role," said Dr. Akbarian.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Akbarian plans to do more epigenetic studies in other areas of the brain to see if there are additional chromatin regions that are unique to humans. They also plan to study the epigenomes of other mammals with highly evolved social behaviors such as elephants.

Dr. Akbarian joined Mount Sinai in July 2012. He is internationally known for his cutting-edge research on the epigenetic mechanisms of psychiatric disorders. He is a widely recognized expert in advanced chromatin toolsmany of which were developed in his laboratoryin conjunction with mouse mutagenesis and behavioral models of mental illness to bridge molecular, cellular, and behavioral investigations. He is also a renowned authority on the epigenetic analysis of human brain tissue examined postmortem.

Prior to joining Mount Sinai, Dr. Akbarian was Director of the Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute. He received his medical and doctorate degrees from the Freie Universitaet Berlin. Dr. Akbarian completed his postdoctoral training in neuroscience at the University of California at Irvine and the Whitehead Institute, and his residency in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Contact: Mount Sinai Press Office
The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Related biology news :

1. The long, err, short of it
2. Glycogen accumulation in neurons causes brain damage and shortens the lives of flies and mice
3. New product to replace fishmeal could help prevent global food shortage
4. Reed Elsevier Environmental Challenge shortlists 2012 projects
5. Short stretches of piRNA evaluate cells genetic history
6. UC Davis study finds that above-normal weight alone does not increase the short-term risk of death
7. A shortcut to sustainable fisheries
8. Plants unpack winter coats when days get shorter
9. Bone marrow stem cells do not improve short-term recovery after heart attack
10. Leading evolutionary scientist to discuss how genome of bacteria has evolved
11. Darwin in the genome
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/22/2016)... ANGELES , June 22, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... identity management and verification solutions, has partnered ... edge software solutions for Visitor Management, Self-Service ... provides products that add functional enhancements ... partnership provides corporations and venues with an ...
(Date:6/20/2016)... June 20, 2016 Securus Technologies, a ... solutions for public safety, investigation, corrections and monitoring ... involved, it has secured the final acceptance by ... for Managed Access Systems (MAS) installed. Furthermore, Securus ... to be installed by October, 2016. MAS distinguishes ...
(Date:6/9/2016)... attendance control systems is proud to announce the introduction of fingerprint attendance control software, ... employees are actually signing in, and to even control the opening of doors. ... ... ... Photo - ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... DIEGO , June 27, 2016  Sequenom, Inc. ... committed to enabling healthier lives through the development of ... Court of the United States ... courts that the claims of Sequenom,s U.S. Patent No. ... patent eligibility criteria established by the Supreme Court,s Mayo ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 27, 2016 , ... Parallel ... clinical trials, announced today the Clinical Reach Virtual Patient Encounter CONSULT module ... circle with the physician and clinical trial team. , Using the CONSULT module, patients ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 27, 2016 , ... ... operations for Amgen, will join the faculty of the University of North ... adjunct professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler, with a focus on ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... June 27, 2016   Ginkgo Bioworks , a ... engineering, was today awarded as one of the ... the world,s most innovative companies. Ginkgo Bioworks is ... the real world in the nutrition, health and ... directly with customers including Fortune 500 companies to ...
Breaking Biology Technology: