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How genes get us wired

cuits. This may be true not only for nerves in the face, but for other Hox genes that help form nerves that control the body from head to foot."

The study is being published in the June 15 online edition of the journal Genes & Development and in the journal's July 1 printed issue. Capecchi and Arenkiel co-authored the scientific paper with Gary Gaufo and Petr Tvrdik [Petr Tvrdik is correct], both of whom are postdoctoral fellows in human genetics at the University of Utah.

Wiring the brain to the face

The study is the latest in a series in which Capecchi and his colleagues have examined the workings of homeobox or Hox genes, which act like conductors to orchestrate the operation of other genes, turning those genes on and off at the appropriate times as an embryo develops.

All mammals have 13 groups of Hox genes with two to four genes per group, for a total of 39 Hox genes. These genes help ensure various parts of the body form in the correct place during embryo development.

Researchers already knew that Hoxb1 was "expressed" or active meaning it produces a protein to carry out its genetic instructions within the embryonic brain. In 1996, Capecchi and British scientists showed that the Hoxb1 gene helped promote development of nerve fibers that eventually extend to facial muscles and control them. Those muscles allow mice to wiggle their whiskers, blink their eyes and pull back their ears. The same muscles in humans allow people to smile, frown, cry, pucker their lips and make other facial expressions.

In the new study, Arenkiel, Capecchi and colleagues showed that for the seventh cranial nerves (one on each side of the face) to develop properly, Hoxb1 must be active or "expressed" at both ends of the brain-to-face circuit.

When the researchers disabled the Hoxb1 gene in the face but not in the brain of a developing mouse embryo, the nerves extending from the brain did not reach th
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14-Jun-2004


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