My watch list
my.bionity.com  
Login  

Diversity in the brain

How millions of neurons become unique

27-Sep-2018

Universität Basel, Biozentrum

Different gene variants ensure the diversity of neurons by chance.

How is it possible that so many different and highly specific neurons arise in the brain? A mathematic model developed by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum demonstrates that different variants of genes enable such a random diversity. The scientists describe in “Cell Reports” that despite countless numbers of newly formed neurons, the genetic variants equip neurons individually and precisely for their specific function.

The brain is our body’s most complex organ and consists of about 100 billion neurons. For the error-free transmission of information and for proper functioning, the different cells must be programmed in a way that they connect with the correct interaction partner. Genes determine the function of the neurons. The approximately 30,000 different genes alone, however, are not sufficient to create the necessary diversity of individual neurons.

Attila Becskei’s team at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, has investigated embryonic stem cells during their maturation to neurons and developed a mathematical model of their development. It demonstrates how the observed neuronal diversity and precision is achieved by gene variants, so-called isoforms.

Gene variants ensure individuality

The different variants of single genes enable the development of a great diversity of individual neurons. “Only the combination of isoforms makes it possible that such diverse populations of neurons are generated by a rather limited number of genes. The combinations of the isoforms are chosen randomly. This random process, however, can result in great variations in the number of expressed isoforms in the individual cells,” says Becskei. However, it is important to have the same or a similar number of expressed genes for the neurons to interact specifically with other neurons.

Exclusiveness despite numbers

The development of individual neurons is a kind of mass production with random release. Millions of neurons are formed just like on an assembly line. But how can precision be achieved in this process? The result surprised the researchers: “Our mathematical model demonstrates that combinatorial diversity and precision are not mutually opposing phenomena but rather work together, hand in hand,” explains Becskei. Contrary to previous expectations, the number of different isoforms in the cell and exclusive precision increase simultaneously during the maturation of the neurons. In short: the more isoform variants, the more exclusive and evenly distributed they are in the individual neurons.

As each gene is expressed differently and not all have various isoforms, the findings cannot be applied to all genes. In the future, the Becskei research group plans to investigate more genes and study the strategies that ensure the individuality of neurons. Which function is linked with the uniqueness of each neuron is another question to pursue.

Facts, background information, dossiers
More about Universität Basel
  • News

    Creating blood vessels on demand

    When organs or tissues are damaged, new blood vessels must form as they play a vital role in bringing nutrients and eliminating waste and it is necessary for organs and tissues to regain their normal function. At present, the injection of growth factors or genetic material into the tissue s ... more

    Crime Scene Schizophrenia – 30 Genes under suspicion

    The research group led by Prof. Alex Schier, Director of the University of Basel’s Biozentrum, has identified 30 genes associated with schizophrenia. The team was able to show which pathological changes in the brain and behavioral abnormalities are triggered by these genes. The research tea ... more

    Sound the alarm! How injured plant cells warn their neighbors

    All organisms can be injured. But what happens when a plant is injured? How can it heal itself and avoid infections? An international research team from the University of Basel and Ghent University has reported on wound reaction mechanisms in plants in the journal Science. Their insights in ... more

  • Videos

    Virtual Reality in Medicine: New Opportunities for Diagnostics and Surgical Planning

    Before an operation, surgeons have to obtain the most precise image possible of the anatomical structures of the part of the body undergoing surgery. University of Basel researchers have now developed a technology that uses computed tomography data to generate a three-dimensional image in r ... more

    Nuclear Pores Captured on Film

    Zooming into a nuclear pore complex using a high-speed atomic force microscope reveals the selectivity barrier that filters the traffic of molecules passing between the cytoplasm and nucleus in eukaryotic cells. This is comprised of intrinsically disordered proteins known as FG Nucleoporins ... more

  • Universities

    Universität Basel

    Tradition - The city of Basel is home to the oldest university in Switzerland. Founded upon the initiative of local citizens in 1460, the University of Basel is a modern and attractive centre of teaching, learning, and research situated in the heart of the historic old town. Self - managed ... more

Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE