Sequentially expressed genes in neural progenitors create neural diversity

June 19, 2013, New York University

A team of New York University biologists has found that a series of genes sequentially expressed in brain stem cells control the generation of neural diversity in visual system of fruit flies. Their results are reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

In order for the brain to properly develop and function, a vast array of different types of neurons and glia must be generated from a small number of . By better understanding the details of this process, scientists can develop ways to recognize and remedy a range of neural afflictions such as microcephaly or neurodegeneration.

The research, conducted in the laboratory of NYU Biology Professor Claude Desplan, examined this process by studying the neurons in the visual centers of the fruit fly Drosophila. Drosophila is a powerful model for studying neural diversity because of its relative simplicity, although the studied , termed the medulla, contains approximately 40,000 neurons, belonging to more than 70 cell types.

Specifically, they examined the genes expressed in neuroblasts—dividing that generate neurons—in the medulla and how and when they are expressed. Their findings revealed that five genes encoding five different transcription factors—proteins that bind to specific —are expressed in a specified order in each of the medulla neuroblasts as they age. The five genes form a temporal cascade: one gene can activate the next gene and repress the previous gene, thus ensuring the progression of the temporal sequence.

It is this process, the researchers found, that controls the sequential generation of different neural types in the Drosophila medulla. These results, together with other studies in the field, suggest that a similar mechanism is utilized to generate neural diversity in the brains of humans and other mammals.

Explore further: Scientists identify neurons that control feeding behavior in Drosophila

More information: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12319 , dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12266

Related Stories

Flies with personality

April 8, 2013

(Phys.org) —Fruit flies may have more individuality and personality than we imagine.

Recommended for you

Microbial communities demonstrate high turnover

January 19, 2018

When Mark Twain famously said "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes," he probably didn't anticipate MIT researchers would apply his remark to their microbial research. But a new study does ...

Hot weather is bad news for bird sperm

January 19, 2018

A new study led by Macquarie University and spanning Sydney and Oslo has shown that exposure to extreme temperatures, such as those experienced during heatwave conditions, significantly reduces sperm quality in zebra finches, ...

More genes are active in high-performance maize

January 19, 2018

When two maize inbred lines are crossed with each other, an interesting effect occurs: The hybrid offspring have a significantly higher yield than either of the two parent plants. Scientists at the University of Bonn have ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.