The human brain is the command center for the human nervous system. It receives input from the sensory organs and sends output to the muscles. The human brain is highly developed with higher functions compared to other animals, thanks to which humans are believed to have acquired special abilities.
One of the important factors considered to contribute to the development of the brain is the gyrus, the fold on the cerebral cortex surface. The cerebral cortex is particularly important in higher brain functions. The cerebral cortex of higher animals, including humans, has many folds, called the gyrus (plural: "gyri"). By acquiring the gyrus in the process of evolution, it has become possible to have a large number of neurons, and thus great development of brain functions has been acquired.
On the other hand, the mouse, a widely used model animal, has a brain without gyri. This has made it very difficult to do research on the gyrus using the mouse as a model animal; therefore, research on the gyrus has been much retarded.
By using the latest genome editing tool, a type of genetic engineering, we have succeeded in knocking out a specific gene in the ferret cerebral cortex and in elucidating one of the mechanisms of gyrus formation.
Establishment of a technique for knocking out a specific gene in the ferret cerebral cortex by using the latest genome editing tool.
We have succeeded in establishing a technique for knocking out any gene in the ferret cerebral cortex by combining CRISPR/Cas9, the latest genome editing tool, and the technique we have so far developed for introducing a gene in the ferret cerebral cortex. This new technique opens a way to a new stage of genetics research of the brain of higher mammals.
Gyrus impairment by knocking out the gene Cdk5 - We have applied the above-mentioned technique to knocking out a gene called Cdk5 in the ferret cerebral cortex and found that gyrus formation was impaired. This result indicates that Cdk5 is an important gene for gyrus formation.
Important neurons for gyrus formation - We searched for neurons playing important roles in gyrus formation and found that neurons on the upper-layer cerebral cortex were essential. This finding is the first in the world; it was not known so far which neurons in the brain would play important roles in gyrus formation.
These results of the current study indicate that functions of Cdk5 in neurons of the upper-layer cerebral cortex are important for the formation of the gyrus.
In this study, our research group has elucidated one of the mechanisms for gyrus formation by developing a research technique for the ferret brain. Until today, research on gyrus formation has been rare so this study is truly world-leading. It is expected that this study will pave a way to elucidate brain evolution, up to the human brain, which was previously quite difficult with mice, a widely used model animal.
In addition, humans suffer, although rarely, from diseases due to gyrus impairment, the pathogenesis of which is largely unknown. The new technique we have developed in this study is expected to lead to elucidation of the etiology of various diseases including those mentioned above, which was difficult to investigate in the mouse.