Scientists develop technique to reveal epigenetic features of cells in the brain

phys.org | 9/9/2019 | Staff
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The brain's prefrontal cortex, which gives us our ability to solve problems and plan ahead, contains billions of cells. But understanding the large diversity of cell types in this critical region, each with unique genetic and molecular properties, has been challenging.

Scientists have known that much of this diversity results from epigenetics (such as the chemical tags on DNA) as well as how epigenetic features ultimately fold up within chromosomes to affect how genes are expressed.

Salk - Researchers - Method - Chromosomes - Features

Now, Salk researchers have developed a method to simultaneously analyze how chromosomes, along with their epigenetic features, are compacted inside of single human brain cells. A collaborative team of scientists from the Ecker and Dixon labs combined two different analysis techniques into one method, which enabled them to identify gene regulatory elements in distinct cell types. The work, which was published in Nature Methods on September 9, 2019, paves the way toward a new understanding of how some cells become dysregulated to cause disease.

"We've taken this new and better approach to analyzing the genomes of single cells and applied it to healthy brain tissue," says Salk Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Joseph Ecker, head of the Genomic Analysis Laboratory and the paper's co-corresponding author. "The next step is to compare normal and disease tissue."

DNA - Structures - Chromosomes - Cell - Nucleus

How DNA is packed within structures called chromosomes in a cell's nucleus can play a critical role in cellular function. And how DNA is ultimately folded depends on which sections of DNA need to interact with each other and which need to be easily accessible to cellular machinery. The structure of chromosomes acts as a sort of cellular fingerprint: although different cell types have the same sequence of DNA, they have different chromosome structures to organize that DNA.

At the same time, chemical (epigenetic) modifications to DNA itself—such as the addition of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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