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Scientists explore the mind with epigenomic maps
Date:7/5/2013

ome, called DNA methylation, consists of small chemical tags that are placed upon some of the C letters in the genome. These tags alert the cell to treat the tagged DNA differently and change the way it is read, for example causing a nearby gene to be turned off. DNA methylation plays an essential role in our development and in our bodies ability to make and distinguish different cell types.

To better understand the role of the epigenome in brain development, the scientists used advanced DNA sequencing technologies to produce comprehensive maps of precisely which C's in the genome have these chemical tags, in brains from infants through to adults. The study delivers the first comprehensive maps of DNA methylation and its dynamics in the brain throughout the lifespan of both humans and mice.

"Surprisingly, we discovered that a unique type of DNA methylation emerges precisely when the neurons in a child's developing brain are forming new connections with each other; essentially when critical brain circuitry is being formed." says co-first author Eran Mukamel from Salk's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory.

Conventionally, DNA methylation in humans had been thought to occur almost exclusively at C's that are followed by a G in the genome sequence, so-called 'CG methylation'. However, in a surprise discovery in 2009, the researchers found that a distinct form of DNA methylation, called 'non-CG methylation' constitutes a large fraction of DNA methylation in the human embryonic stem cell genome.

The researchers had previously observed both forms of DNA methylation in plant genomes when conducting earlier research that pioneered many of the techniques required for this brain study.

"Because of our earlier plant epigenome research we approached our human investigations from a distinct angle," Professor Lister said. "We were actively looking for these non-CG methylation sites that were not widely thought to exist. Our new study
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Contact: Ryan Lister
ryan.lister@uwa.edu.au
61-448-375-394
University of Western Australia
Source:Eurekalert

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