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New tech reveals hidden mysteries of the brain

The discovery could bring new insights into brain diseases

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By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

New technology which gives an unprecedented glimpse inside individual brain cells has been developed by scientists.

Researchers hope the new platform will give them a better grasp of brain diseases.

(ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Academics at the Salk Institute in California have developed a new genomic technology that can simultaneously analyze DNA, RNA and chromatin, which contains DNA and protein, from a single cell.

The method, which took five years to develop, is a vital step towards large collaborations where several teams can work at the same time to classify thousands of new cell types.

The technology should prove vital for large-scale efforts to develop catalogs of mouse and human brain cell types.

This information can then be used to better understand how the brain grows and develops and the role different cell types play in debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Existing single-cell technology works by extracting DNA, RNA or chromatin from a cell’s nucleus and then analyzing its molecular structure for patterns.

However, this destroys the cell in the process, leaving researchers relying on complex algorithms to analyze more than one of these components per cell and compare the results.

For the new method, called snmCAT-seq, scientists used biomarkers to tag DNA, RNA and chromatin without removing them from the cell.

This let them measure all three types of molecular information in the same cell.

This method was then used to identify 63 cell types in the frontal lobe at the front of the brain, a part of the brain that is key to personality development.

It then benchmarked the efficacy of computerized ways of integrating multiple single-cell technologies.

The team found the computer methods are very good at characterizing broadly-defined brain populations but less effective at analyzing less well-defined cell types.

The researchers say cell types need to be defined by a wider range of measurements if they are to be classified more accurately.

The technology could be used to help scientists better understand how genes and cells interact to cause brain diseases.

Hospital Radiographers With a Male Patient Operating the MRI Scanner
(Juice Flair/Shutterstock)

The study’s first author Dr. Chongyuan Luo said: ‘’These diseases can broadly affect many cell types, but there are certain cell populations that are particularly vulnerable.

‘’Genetic research has pinpointed the regions of the genome that are relevant for diseases like Alzheimer’s.

‘’We are providing another data dimension and identifying the cell types affected by these genomic reasons.”

The researchers now want to survey other parts of the brain and compare healthy brain cells with ones affected by Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases so those conditions can be better understood.

The findings were published in the journal Cell Genomics.

The research was supported by the US National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of California San Diego.

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