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Researchers uncover novel mechanism that balances the sizes of functional areas in the brain
Date:9/10/2007

LA JOLLA, CA In the cerebral cortex, the brains powerful central processing unit responsible for higher functions, specialized subdivisions known as areas are laid out like a map, but little is known about the genetic forces that shape the geography of our brains.

In this weeks advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience, an international collaboration between researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine in Italy reports the discovery of a novel function for a factor that negotiates the borders between areas and balances their sizes and positions relative to each other.

The factor, COUP-TF1, ensures that the frontal areas dont claim too much cortical real estate. Without COUP-TF1 keeping the frontal areas in check, they undergo massive expansion squeezing and pushing neighboring sensory areas literally to the back of the brain.

The findings show how the cortex is properly parceled into frontal areas that control higher functions related to emotions and the movements of our bodies versus areas that interpret our sensory environment and allow us to see, hear and feel. Because primary areas in humans differ by two-fold or more in the normal population, these findings may explain these size differences, which appear to account, at least in part, for differences between individuals in behavior and skills.

Until now, there has been only one other gene, Emx2, that everybody agrees on directly controls area patterning, explains co-senior author Dennis OLeary, Ph.D., professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute. Our current understanding of this process is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We are only beginning to define the mechanisms that determine the area identity of neurons in the cortex.

The back of the cortex is predominantly specialized to process vision, whereas the front of the cortex handles motor functions and control
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
Kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-4100 x1340
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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