Researchers create an online 'atlas' to the human brain

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The human brain is fascinating to navigate--and now, it's getting an atlas. A team from the U.S. Department of Energy has developed a guide to gene-enhancers in the cerebrum, which will benefit research into the causes of some neurological diseases.

Researchers from the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a publicly accessible internet-based data collection of data which identifies a region in the brain where thousands of gene-regulating elements necessary for cognition, motor functions are emotions are found.

"Understanding how the brain develops and functions, and how it malfunctions in neurological disorders, remains one of the most daunting challenges in contemporary science," Axel Visel, a geneticist with Berkeley Lab's Genomics Division, said in and announcement. "We've created a genome-wide digital atlas of gene enhancers in the human brain--the switches that tell genes when and where they need to be switched on or off. This enhancer atlas will enable other scientists to study in more detail how individual genes are regulated during development of the brain, and how genetic mutations may impact human neurological disorders."

A paper published this week in the journal Cell titled "A High-Resolution Enhancer Atlas of the Developing Telencephalon" details the researchers' work. Telencephalon are gene-enhancers in the cerebrum, the most highly developed region in the brain, where "gray matter" processes complex information and the basal ganglia, which controls movement and some learning, is located, according to Berkley Lab.

"By mapping hundreds of gene enhancer sequences and defining where exactly in the developing brain they are active, our enhancer atlas provides important information to connect non-coding mutations to actual biological functions," Visel said in the announcement.

One of the main ways the researchers were able to do this mapping was through ChIP-seq, which stands for "chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing."

The announcement explains a main use for the atlas--if a certain region of the human genome without any protein-coding genes has been linked to a neurological disorder, the atlas could be used to see if the region houses any "distant-acting gene enhancers."

Another type of brain imaging was used to identify abnormal brain proteins associated with traumatic brain injury in professional athletes earlier this year, showing more strides into identifying diseases developed by certain buildup in the brain.

To learn more:
- read the Berkeley Lab announcement
- read the Cell paper outlining the research

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