A Map in the Making

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science have made a map of the human prenatal brain with where genes are turned on or off during pregnancy according to the paper published in Nature on April 2 2014.

Knowing when and where a gene is expressed in the brain during pregnancy can lead to an incredible jump in our understanding of human development.  The map, which is known as the BrainSpan Atlas, is one that takes an in depth look at which cells express certain genes and where they are located in the brain using compiled data from many studies previously conducted. The freely available atlas will be very useful for continuing neuroscience research into diseases, such as autism, that are linked to brain development during pregnancy.

In particular, the researchers have further examined genes previously identified as possibly linked to autism.  The map helped identify when and where the genetic activity is occurring, and they found that there are a lot of activating cells in the cortex (the outermost layer of the forebrain).  The cortex is responsible for many of the cognitive functions affected in autism, such as social behavior.  This discovery has two implications. First, this indicates that future studies should be conducted looking at the cortex, and second, that the BrainSpan Atlas may prove to be extremely useful in the ongoing studies of neurodevelopmental diseases.

The Atlas will be added to as more discoveries come about to keep it up to date.


The BrainSpan Atlas may be accessed Allen Brain Atlas data portal (http://www.brainspan.org)

To read the article: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13185.html

Miller, Jeremy A., et al. “Transcriptional landscape of the prenatal human brain.” Nature 2014 April 2. doi: 10.1038/nature13185

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