Scientists have created the most comprehensive genetic map of the developing human brain so far. The map highlights networks that may increase the chances of developing five different conditions, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. To create the map, the researchers sampled 15 areas of the brain, focusing on the mid-gestational period. They looked at gene expression in almost 1,300 tissue samples, taken from more than 100 people, who donated their brains to research.
The researchers found patterns of gene expression related to the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine and the development of various different neuronal types. They also discovered that the fetal brain is rich in regulatory activities, serving as a hub for signals instructing different regions of the brain to grow and develop. The team has already begun to explore how identical gene variants can perform different or overlapping roles in differing brain regions.
The team believes that the improved understanding of the genetic architecture of brain development will allow them to identify specific molecular targets to potentially intervene in altered neurodevelopmental processes. This work could lead to the development of drugs aimed at combating the genetic factors behind psychiatric disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia.
The study also revealed genes that were previously poorly characterized, many of which showed distinct patterns of expression in different regions of the brain. This finding suggests the importance of ongoing research into previously poorly studied gene regions that may make significant contributions to brain development. Overall, the map represents a significant milestone in understanding the genetic basis of brain development and related psychiatric conditions, and paves the way for further research into the molecular markers of mental health disorders.