News

Articles

Decoding the patterns that make our brains human

November 16, 2015

Each of our human brains is special, carrying distinctive memories and giving rise to our unique thoughts and actions. Most research on the brain focuses on what makes one brain different from another. But recently, Allen Institute researchers turned the question around.

“So much research focuses on the variations between individuals, but we turned that question on its head to ask, what makes us similar?” says Ed Lein, Ph.D., Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “What is the conserved element among all of us that must give rise to our unique cognitive abilities and human traits?”

Their work, published this month in Nature Neuroscience, looked at gene expression across the entire human brain and identified a surprisingly small set of molecular patterns that dominate gene expression in the human brain and appear to be common to all individuals.

“Looking at the data from this unique vantage point enables us to study gene patterning that we all share,” says Mike Hawrylycz, Ph.D., Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “We used the Allen Human Brain Atlas data to quantify how consistent the patterns of expression for various genes are across human brains, and to determine the importance of the most consistent and reproducible genes for brain function.”

Despite the anatomical complexity of the brain and the complexity of the human genome, most of the patterns of gene usage across all 20,000 genes could be characterized by just 32 expression patterns. The most highly stable genes—the genes that were most consistent across all brains—include those that are associated with diseases and disorders like autism and Alzheimer’s and include many existing drug targets. These patterns provide insights into what makes the human brain distinct and raise new opportunities to target therapeutics for treating disease.

Learn more by reading the press release.

Press Coverage

0