Brain’s DNA alters over a person’s lifetime

NEW research on brain cells could shed more light on neurological diseases, scientists have discovered.

Researchers from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh have found brain cells alter their genetic make-up during a person’s lifetime.

They have identified genes — known as retrotransposons — responsible for thousands of tiny changes in the DNA of brain tissue.

Researchers, whose work is published in the journal Nature, found that the genes were particularly active in areas of the brain linked to cell renewal.

By mapping the locations of these genes in the human genome, scientists could identify mutations that impact on brain function and that may cause diseases to develop.

The study shows for the first time that brain cells are genetically different to other cells in the body and are also genetically distinct from each other. Scientists are now researching whether brain tumour formation and neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s are associated with a change in retro-transposon activity.

Dr Geoff Faulkner said: “This research completely overturns the belief that the genetic make-up of brain cells remains static throughout life and provides new information about how the brain works.”

The research was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Japan and the United States, and was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

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