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Archive - Jul 5, 2013

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Large-Scale Epigenomic Changes Observed during Brain Development

High-resolution mapping of the epigenome has discovered unique patterns that emerge during the generation of brain circuitry in childhood. While the 'genome' can be thought of as the instruction manual that contains the blueprints (genes) for all of the components of our cells and our body, the 'epigenome' can be thought of as an additional layer of information on top of our genes that changes the way they are used. "These new insights will provide the foundation for investigating the role the epigenome plays in learning, memory formation, brain structure, and mental illness." says University of Western Australia (UWA) Professor Ryan Lister, a genome biologist in the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, and a corresponding author in this new study, published online on July 4, 2013 in Science. Dr. Joseph R. Ecker, senior author of this study, and professor and director of the Genomic Analysis Laboratory at California's Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, said the research shows that the period during which the neural circuits of the brain mature is accompanied by a parallel process of large-scale reconfiguration of the neural epigenome. A healthy brain is the product of a long period of developmental processes, Professor Ecker said. These periods of development forge complex structures and connections within our brains. The front part of our brain, called the frontal cortex, is critical for our abilities to think, decide, and act. The frontal cortex is made up of distinct types of cells, such as neurons and glia, which each perform very different functions.