College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Brain mapping pinpoints location of genes

Research into neurodegenerative diseases could be helped by a project that shows for the first time where thousands of genes are located in the human brain.

Scientists have created a map or “atlas” of genes in the brain and found that at least 84 per cent of all genes encoded in our DNA are active in the brain.

This study demonstrates the value of a global analysis of gene expression throughout the entire brain and has implications for understanding brain function, development, evolution and disease.”

Dr Ed LeinAllen Institute for Brain Science and co-lead author on the paper.


The study was carried out by the Allen Institute for Brain Science in America in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and other institutes.

Experts say that knowing where each and every gene works could help identify genetic abnormalities when communication breaks down between nerve cells in the brain.

This could help research into brain conditions such as Huntingdon’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The genetic brain map has already helped pin-point previously unknown genes in parts of the brain known to be affected by these disorders.

The mapping of brain genes will now enable scientists to go on to study the role that different genes play in brain diseases, aiding the quest for better patient treatments.

Importance of genes

Researchers looked at more than 100 million gene expressions in three brains, and studied their role in up to 500 different areas.

The role that genes play is important as when they are expressed - or switched on - they produce specific proteins that help our body function properly.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

It found that despite people having different personalities and cognitive abilities, the molecular processes of the brain are more similar than previously thought.

The human brain is the most complex structure known to mankind and one of the great challenges in modern biology is to understand how it is built and organized. This genetic mapping provides us with the Rosetta Stone for understanding the link between genetic disorders and brain disease. We live in an era where human genome sequencing is discovering broken genes but until now we have not known where in the brain these genes act.”

Professor Seth GrantProfessor of Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh

The Allen Human Brain Atlas is an open, public online resource detailing the role of genes in the human brain. Currently more than 5,000 people visit the Atlas each month.