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Monkey genes shed light on brain mysteries

Image: Monkey brain
A cross-section of the neocortex and cerebellum from an adult rhesus monkey brain has been labeled with a stain that highlights brain cells. (Credit: Allen Institute)

A project led by Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science has mapped out how genes get fired up in key areas of a rhesus monkey’s brain as it develops – and the results could help researchers unlock the mysteries surrounding autism, microcephaly, schizophrenia and other neurological conditions.

The gene expression map, laid out today in research published by the journal Nature, shows that rhesus macaque monkeys are much better models than the usual mice for humans when it comes to brain development. It also confirms the view that different neurological disorders follow dramatically different genetic pathways.

“The sets of genes that turn on early, and the sets of genes that turn on in the adult, shift dramatically,” Allen Institute neuroscientist Ed Lein, the study’s senior author, told GeekWire.

The gene map follows up on earlier work that Lein and his colleagues have done with mice, to track how the brain develops from its fetal stage to adulthood. The Allen Institute has done similar work with adult human brains and fetal brains as well.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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