The discovery can help scientists better understand the developemnt of human brain and mental disorders including dementia
British researchers have identified several new genes that are associated with the bigger size of the brain. This discovery can lead to better understanding of the brain development and may hold the key for coping diseases like dementia.
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A combined team of researchers from Universities of Bath and Lincoln compared the genomes of 28 mammals with varying size of neocortix, a part of the brain concerned with higher functions in mammals like language, perception and decision-making. Humans have the biggest neocordex amongst all mammals, which has reached to its present size over years.
Researchers mostly use mice as a model to understand processes of human brain development but in doing so they could miss many genes that are present in humans but not found in rodents.
In this study, researchers have used different large and small mammals to track different genes and found a link between several gene families and the size of the brain, some of which were previously not linked with the growth of the brain.
The discovery can provide more insight into mental illnesses including dementia and can help prevent or delay their onset. Dementia is a persistent disease that causes decline in memory and thinking. As we get older, our brain shrinks dramatically and this brain shrinkage raises the risk of dementia, which affects nearly all the functions of the brain such as language, behavior, thinking, judgment, and memory. In other words, reduced brain size can result in dementia while bigger brains can assist people in fight against the disease in later years of their life. Newfound genes can help identify ways to keep brain big or maintain their size in older age.
“By comparing the genomes of many different species with large and small brains, and correlating the expansion of gene families with size of neocortex in these species, we’ve identified several new families of genes that could be involved in brain development in species with a large neocortex such as elephants, dolphins and of course, our,” said lead researcher Dr Araxi Urrutia from University of Bath.
"We hope this could help scientists better understand brain development and what goes wrong in conditions such as dementia."