Australian Researchers Discover Gene Key to Brain’s Building Blocks

by Gopalan on Nov 21 2008 11:25 AM

Australian researchers say they have discovered a gene that is considered crucial to the human brain’s building blocks. 

They are focusing on the development of the hippocampus, the region of the brain that is related to memory function and also to the production and integration of new nerve cells.

Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) Associate Professor Linda Richards says knowledge of the early development of hippocampus remains surprisingly scant. Her research team is looking at how the brain forms during embryonic and foetal development.

Dr Richards and her colleagues have identified a gene that regulates the development of glial cells in the hippocampus. Their research shows that the hippocampus contains different populations of glial cells that are essential for the structural integrity of the hippocampus.

"Glial cells are an important part of the building blocks of the brain," Dr Richards said.

"They provide an essential scaffold for the migration of neurons in the developing brain. It is vital we understand how glial cells provide this structural scaffold because if the hippocampus is not formed correctly it cannot perform all the functions required of it in the developing and adult brain," she said.

"The hippocampus plays an integral role in spatial navigation, learning and memory, and is a major site for adult neurogenesis."

Mice lacking the gene that regulates glial cell differentiation exhibit major developmental irregularities, including catastrophic structural deformities of the hippocampus.

Equipped with this knowledge, researchers studying the hippocampus now have a better understanding of the genes that help control the development of this vital brain region. Fundamental scientific knowledge of this kind is an essential step in understanding brain function and repair.

The research appears in the Journal of Neuroscience: “Specific glial populations regulate hippocampal morphogeneis”.