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Brain gene map: a route to Alzheimer's cure?

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A new catalogue of genes, and the proteins they trigger in the brain, could help scientists develop new treatments for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's. The database has been created by researchers at UCL and the University of Miami, who have spent years mapping the expression of genes in the brain.

Professor John Hardy, UCL Institute of Neurology, said the research has revealed a high degree of genetic control in terms of how much of a particular protein is made by genes in the brain.

He said: "We've taken nearly 200 samples of the human brain [from one section of the brain] and looked at how much of every gene in the genome is being made in a specific area in and around the frontal cortex. Then we looked at the expression pattern of the genes."

The research, led by Hardy and his US counterpart Dr Amanda Myers, could pave the way for totally new approaches to treating brain disease because it can shed light on exactly how it is a gene may predispose a person to a particular illness.

"It is not just the presence of a particular gene but the amount of protein they produce which is going to have real significance in understanding and treating neurological disease," Professor Hardy added. His team has already linked a protein called MAPT with the neurological disease Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, he said.

"In principle, though we are not there yet, this will allow researchers to take a blood sample from anyone and, from looking at their DNA sequence, know how much of every protein they make in their brain and what they might be more pre-disposed to in terms of neurological disease," he concluded.

The database has been made public, and the research is published in the current edition of Nature Genetics. ®

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