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
Molecular motors run in unison in a metal-organic framework
20.03.2019 | University of Groningen
Active substance from plant slows down aggressive eye cancer
20.03.2019 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.
Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...
The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.
A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...
New research group at the University of Jena combines theory and experiment to demonstrate for the first time certain physical processes in a quantum vacuum
For most people, a vacuum is an empty space. Quantum physics, on the other hand, assumes that even in this lowest-energy state, particles and antiparticles...
Physicists in the EPic Lab at University of Sussex make crucial development in global race to develop a portable atomic clock
Scientists in the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic Lab) at the University of Sussex have made a breakthrough to a crucial element of an atomic clock - devices...
11.03.2019 | Event News
01.03.2019 | Event News
28.02.2019 | Event News
20.03.2019 | Life Sciences
20.03.2019 | Life Sciences
20.03.2019 | Trade Fair News