"A good bit of our study was doing control experiments to show that this is not an artifact," says Gage. "We had to do that because this was such a surprise---- finding out that individual neurons in your brain have different DNA content."
The group found a similar amount of variability in CNVs within individual neurons derived from the skin cells of three healthy people. Scientists routinely use such induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to study living neurons in a culture dish. Because iPSCs are derived from single skin cells, one might expect their genomes to be the same.
"The surprising thing is that they're not," says Gage. "There are quite a few unique deletions and amplifications in the genomes of neurons derived from one iPSC line."
Interestingly, the skin cells themselves are genetically different, though not nearly as much as the neurons. This finding, along with the fact that the neurons had unique CNVs, suggests that the genetic changes occur later in development and are not inherited from parents or passed to offspring.
It makes sense that neurons have more diverse genomes than skin cells do, says McConnell, who is now an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville. "The thing about neurons is that, unlike skin cells, they don't turn over, and they interact with each other," he says. "They form these big complex circuits, where one cell that has CNVs that make it different can potentially have network-wide influence in a brain."
Spontaneously occurring CNVs have also been linked to risk for brain disorders such as schizophrenia and autism, but those studies usually pool many blood cells. As a result, the CNVs uncovered in those studies affect many if not all cells, which suggests that they arise early in development.
The purpose of CNVs in the healthy brain is still unclear, but researchers have some i
|Contact: Kat Kearney|