Map showing molecular make-up of brain

Map showing molecular make-up of brain

 

Monday, 4 December, 2017

Professor Seth Grant (Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences), Professor Douglas Armstrong (Informatics) and colleagues in the Centre Clincial Brain Sciences and at the Lilly Research Centre (Surrey), have analysed the molecules produced at synapses in various parts of the brain and found that varying compositions correspond to brain functions. The team found that this map can now bridge the gap between genetic studies and findings from brain imaging, shedding light on why smokers might develop a habit.

The study was based on post mortem brain tissue samples from healthy people held in the Medical Research Council’s Edinburgh Brain Bank. The team analysed the molecules produced at synapses in the brain and found that the composition of these proteomes varied between different brain areas. These post-synaptic molecular composition findings were integrated with genetic, functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography imaging, and behavioral data. It was found that these differences correspond to brain functions – such as language, emotion and memory. 

Furthermore, using the molecular make-up of synapses the researchers built a 'map' and integrated large-scale GWAS data (GWAS data is genetic data from an observational study of a genome-wide set of genetic variants in different individuals). The team were able to investigate where genes that have been linked to smoking exert their influences on the brain. The findings pinpointed the same region in the brain that has previously been identified in brain impaging studies. It is therefore possible that this map can now bridge the gap between genetic studies and findings from brain imaging, to help explain how the brain works. Therefore, the research team say that this new map provides a powerful tool for investigating how diseases affect different parts of the brain. The researchers have made all of their data available to facilitate such research.

Professor Seth Grant (Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh), who led the study said: “This is an important step toward understanding the molecular basis of human thought.”

Dr Kate Adcock (MRC Head of Neurosciences & Mental Health) said:  “This innovative study enriches our understanding of the human brain through its use of samples from the Medical Research Council’s Edinburgh Brain Bank. The information that Professor Grant and his team has generated provide an excellent opportunity for researchers to gain further insight into how the brain works.”