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Transposons may be rewiring our brain

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A new study by neuroscientists at the University of Oxford suggests that mobile genetic elements that were active in the genome of our ancestors may be closely related to important functions of our brain, our behavior, It shows that it may help diversify cognition and emotions.

The· It contains instructions for building and maintaining all the cells of our body. This “cell manual” is inherited from parents and passed down to children. Mistakes in this manual can alter the properties of cells and cause diseases, including cancer. More than half of our genome is made up of “junk” DNA, most of which is a potentially mobile part called a transposon or “jump gene” that is thought to have evolved from an ancient virus. Consists of.

Transposons can be repositioned and their distribution varies from person to person, so they can be considered “loose pages” in the cell manual. .. Transposons inserted into genes can disrupt their function and impair important cellular processes. However, recently it has been proposed that transposons may play a more beneficial role in our body, such as communication between different cells in the brain.

Researchers at the Oxford Neural Circuit and Behavior Center are now using state-of-the-art single-cell sequencing in the well-established fruit fly brain. In neuroscience, investigate Activity in the brain at an unprecedented level of detail. This new analysis reveals that transposons are not uniformly activated throughout the fly’s brain, but show a very clear expression pattern. In addition, these patterns were closely associated with genes near the transposon. This indicates that transposons can play an important altruistic role in our body.

To further investigate, lead author Dr. Christoph Traver has created a new software tool for detailed analysis of transposon expression. Together with Professor Scott Wadel, Treiber discovered that transposon segments are often part of messenger RNA from neural genes. This suggests that these “jump genes” can frequently alter neural function.Transposons have altered genes that have a known role in a wide range of brain properties and functions Includes sleep-wake cycle and memory formation. Importantly, individual transposons have created many additional versions of these genes that differ between animals.

Dr. Traver said: “Animal genomes are selfish and non-beneficial changes are often not predominant because transposons are part of hundreds. In all the fly strains we examined, we believe that these physical connections are likely to be beneficial to the fly.

“We now want to understand the effects of these new alleles on the behavior of individual animals. Transposons broaden the neural function of the fly population, which makes it difficult for a small number of individuals. You may be able to react more creatively in the situation. Our preliminary analysis shows that transposons can play a similar role in us. .. Since everyone has a unique transposon “fingerprint”, our findings may be related to the need to personalize pharmacological treatments for patients with neurological conditions. There is.


Research sheds light on the dark parts of our genetic heritage


For more information:
Christoph D Treiber et al. Transposon expression in the Drosophila brain is driven by adjacent genes to diversify the neural transcriptome. Genome research (2020). DOI: 10.1101 / gr.259200.119

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