Adult neurogenesis refers to the neuronal development within the adult brain- a process which is, remarkably, regulated by physical and cognitive activity. One main goal in this field of research is to identify key genes that control the regulation of adult neurogenesis. It is unlikely that a single gene serves as a master switch since it is known that neuronal development in the adult brain is differentially regulated at various stages. Rather, the involvement of many genes acting in complex networks is responsible for controlling neurogenesis. Now, Gerd Kempermann and collaborators from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and the Salk Institute (La Jolla) have studied the natural variation in adult neurogenesis seen among different inbred lines of mice to gain first insight into the network of genes that is associated with this process (PNAS 2006: doi: 10.1073/pnas.0510291103)
The researchers compared the variation of neurogenesis parameters in 52 strains of mice as related to brain gene expression data in the same strains, thereby identifying genes whose expression strongly correlates with adult neurogenesis. As a result, a total of 190 genes were found to be associated with at least two parameters describing neurogenesis, 21 of which are autoregulatory genes. Supposedly, autoregulatory (cis-acting) genes exert particularly strong influences. The number of genes of interest was then further narrowed to 12 main candidates, 6 of which are genes with a plausible link to neuronal development. However, six additional genes identified are novel and will be the subject of future studies. The study demonstrates that a systems biology approach to the genetics of adult neurogenesis allows the identification of key genes associated with neuronal development.
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