Dutch scientists map the regulatory elements of the DNA of the brains

1 March 2016

BPRC - 1. Dutch scientists map the regulatory elements of the DNA of the brains

The human genetic code can provide valuable insights into the evolution of humans. Comparing the human genetic code to that of apes and monkeys may help to unravel the evolutionary history of man.

It is still unclear which genetic differences determine the advanced cognitive function of the human brain relative to that apes and monkeys. The genetic code that determines which proteins are produced shows relatively little differences between humans, apes and monkeys. Therefore, it was predicted that the difference is a result of changes in regulatory DNA elements. These elements control the timing of production and the quantity of produced proteins.

A team of Dutch scientists have now mapped the regulatory elements in the DNA of various parts of the brains of humans, chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys. They found that many of these elements were located at similar positions, even in humans and the more distantly related rhesus monkeys. This suggests that most of these elements were already present in a common ancestor. However, the researchers also detected differences between rhesus monkeys and humans; in particular, they revealed differences in the usage of the genetic regulatory elements.

This work, to which BPRC researchers have contributed, was published in the leading scientific journal Nature Neuroscience (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26807951). This extensive map of regulatory elements in the brains now offers new opportunities for more targeted approaches that focus on the role of single elements in the evolution and development of human brains.