Gene-expression atlas will provide new direction for brain and spinal-cord studies

Using a technique to insert fluorescently labeled genes into live mice, researchers have created a new atlas that will quite literally light the way for neuroscientists to explore the maze of connections between cells in the central nervous system (CNS).

The researchers who developed the atlas said it would enable scientists to determine when and where specific genes are switched on in the CNS. Researchers can use such clues to explore the molecular machinery that coordinates neural development and to chart the functional circuitry of the brain and spinal cord. All data from the Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas (GENSAT) BAC Transgenic Project, will be available online to researchers worldwide at http://www.gensat.org.

Data derived from the project could have a have major impact on the understanding of neurological disorders, according to the project's leaders, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator Nathaniel Heintz and Mary E. Hatten at The Rockefeller University. The researchers reported the first results from the project in an article published in the October 30, 2003, issue of the journal Nature. Heintz and Hatten collaborated with HHMI investigator Alexandra Joyner at the New York University School of Medicine, as well as with scientists from East Tennessee State University, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

To track gene expression, the researchers developed bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) that contained a segment of a mouse chromosome representing a single gene found in the central nervous system -- including the regulatory segments that determine when and where it will be switched on and off. Instead of inserting only the mouse gene into the BAC, the researchers also spliced in a gene that expressed a green fluorescent protein.

When the researchers introduce the BACs into CNS cells, the cells emit a green fluoresce

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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