There are about 100 billion neurons in an adult human brain. We’ve long known they don’t all look the same. We also know they don’t behave the same. But we’re still trying to find out just how many different types of neurons there are and what they do. To be able to do this at scale, scientists are turning to molecular methods.Now, a team from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of California San Diego has, for the first time, profiled chemical modifications in the DNA of individual neurons, giving the most detailed information yet on what makes one brain cell different from its neighbor.Published in Science, the study analyzed a neuron’s methylome, or pattern of methylated DNA. DNA methylation is chemical addition of methyl groups to the bases in a DNA molecule, which alters how genes are expressed without changing their sequence. These are epigenetic changes, and cataloging them, in a total of about 6,000 cells or 1 trillion DNA bases, enabled the team to sort the neurons into subtypes and create new kinds of brain maps based on a neuron’s gene expression. The study also identifies new subtypes of neurons.
About Christian Hoffeldt
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