Small previously disregarded segments of DNA located in a human brain tissue accommodate new awareness into patterns of cognitive progress as well as risk levels for developing neurological disease such as Autism and Alzheimer’s.
Recently published in PLoS Biology, research from Mt Sinai’s department of psychology and neuroscience explores positions of the human genome previously thought to be inconsequential and how their structure is expressed in mental development.
Dr. Schahram Akbarian and his research team discovered hundreds of regions in the human genome, which displayed notably different chromatin (the combination of DNA and he proteins that make up a cell’s nucleus) framework in neurons found in the prefrontal cortex (the portion of the brain that moderates cognitive behavior and complex emotion).
"We identified hundreds of loci that represent untapped areas of study that may have therapeutic potential," states Dr. Akbarian "While mapping the human genome has taught us a great deal about human biology, the emerging field of epigenomics may help us identify previously overlooked or discarded sequences that are key to understanding disease.”
Dr. Akbarian and his team discovered that a few of these chromatin regions appear to actually interact with each other inside the cell nucleus, even though they are separated by thousands of DNA strands. This phenomenon appears to actually control the expressions of neighboring genes, many of which play a critical role in human cognitive development.
"There is growing consensus among genome researchers that much of what was previously considered as 'junk sequences' in our genomes indeed could play some sort of regulatory role," said Dr. Akbarian.