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.
Prof. Dr. Attila Becskei, University of Basel, Biozentrum, Tel. +41 61 207 22 22, email: email@example.com
Takeo Wada, Sandrine Wallerich, and Attila Becskei
Stochastic gene choice during cellular differentiation
Cell Reports (2018), doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.08.074
Heike Sacher | Universität Basel
Phage capsid against influenza: Perfectly fitting inhibitor prevents viral infection
31.03.2020 | Forschungsverbund Berlin
A 'cardiac patch with bioink' developed to repair heart
31.03.2020 | Pohang University of Science & Technology (POSTECH)
An international team with the participation of Prof. Dr. Michael Kues from the Cluster of Excellence PhoenixD at Leibniz University Hannover has developed a new method for generating quantum-entangled photons in a spectral range of light that was previously inaccessible. The discovery can make the encryption of satellite-based communications much more secure in the future.
A 15-member research team from the UK, Germany and Japan has developed a new method for generating and detecting quantum-entangled photons at a wavelength of...
Together with their colleagues from the University of Würzburg, physicists from the group of Professor Alexander Szameit at the University of Rostock have devised a “funnel” for photons. Their discovery was recently published in the renowned journal Science and holds great promise for novel ultra-sensitive detectors as well as innovative applications in telecommunications and information processing.
The quantum-optical properties of light and its interaction with matter has fascinated the Rostock professor Alexander Szameit since College.
Researchers at the University of Zurich show that different stem cell populations are innervated in distinct ways. Innervation may therefore be crucial for proper tissue regeneration. They also demonstrate that cancer stem cells likewise establish contacts with nerves. Targeting tumour innervation could thus lead to new cancer therapies.
Stem cells can generate a variety of specific tissues and are increasingly used for clinical applications such as the replacement of bone or cartilage....
An international research team led by Kiel University develops an extremely porous material made of "white graphene" for new laser light applications
With a porosity of 99.99 %, it consists practically only of air, making it one of the lightest materials in the world: Aerobornitride is the name of the...
Researchers at Graz University of Technology have developed a framework by which wireless devices with different radio technologies will be able to communicate directly with each other.
Whether networked vehicles that warn of traffic jams in real time, household appliances that can be operated remotely, "wearables" that monitor physical...
26.03.2020 | Event News
23.03.2020 | Event News
03.03.2020 | Event News
31.03.2020 | Life Sciences
31.03.2020 | Life Sciences
31.03.2020 | Medical Engineering