Molecular Systems Biology | The Seven Stones

Functional genomics of the neuron

Several recent publications seem to give a clear signal that the time has come for a functional genomic approach of key neuronal functions, such as neuronal differentiation or synaptic plasticity.

  • The Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle has completed the Allen Brain Atlas (Lein et al, 2007, see also our N&V by Sebastian Jessberger and Fred H Gage), cataloging the expression patterns of 20’000 genes in serial in situ hybridization sections and providing an exemplary web interface to query and retrieve the information
  • Neurons are notoriously difficult cultivate and transfect, making it difficult to probe gene function in a high-thgoughput fashion. Michael Greenberg describes in Neuron (Paradis et al, 2007) the results of a systematical RNAi screen to evaluate the function of roughly 150 genes in synapse formation.
  • Aplysia californica has been extremely useful as a model in identifying the signaling processes underlying synaptic plasticity and delineating the molecular mechanisms involved in learning and memory. The laboratory of Eric Kandel at Columbia University has now characterized the neuronal transcriptome of Aplysia (Moroz et al, 2006) not only in several distinct ganglia but also in individual identified neurons and even in neuronal processes from cells known to support local protein synthesis at their synaptic terminals.


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