Scientists at Harvard Medical School and Brandeis University say that they have identified what types of genes are necessary for brain development.
Lead researcher Dr. Katharine Sepp and her colleagues first screened fresh neuronal cells extracted from embryos of the fruit fly genus Drosophila using RNA interference techniques.
One by one, all the genes were tested for their role in neuronal development.
Later, the researchers validated the method in mice.
Writing about their findings in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, Dr. Sepp and her colleagues revealed that a combination of live-cell imaging and quantitative analysis allowed them to characterize neurons'' morphological phenotypes in response to RNAi-mediated gene knockdown.
The team focused on 104 evolutionary conserved genes that, when downregulated by RNAi, have morphological defects.
The experts also developed algorithms to help streamline the analysis of the thousands of images created in the process.
The analysis revealed unexpected, essential roles in neurite outgrowth for genes representing a wide range of functional categories including signalling molecules, enzymes, channels, receptors, and cytoskeletal proteins.
Results also determined that genes known to be involved in protein and vesicle trafficking show similar RNAi phenotypes.
The researchers believe that their study provides an effective method for future studies of a large variety of genes, including those with important functions in the nervous system.