A new atlas of gene expression in the pre- and postnatal primate brain is revealed online this week in Nature. It is hoped that the high-resolution map will shed light, not just on how the brain develops, but also on the processes that underpin neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.
Ed Lein and colleagues created a high-resolution atlas of rhesus monkey brain development that uncovers, in fine levels of anatomical detail, how gene expression changes across time, from early gestation to young adulthood. The atlas shows that the most dynamic changes happen prenatally then decline in the months after birth, and that cortical areas acquire their adult-like molecular profiles surprisingly late in postnatal development. Genes previously linked to neurodevelopmental disorders are shown to be co-expressed in disease-specific patterns within the developing neocortex.
The study also indicates that human developmental gene expression patterns are more similar to those of monkeys than to those of rodents, with around 9% of genes showing human-specific patterns of gene expression during brain development. This confirms the value of the rhesus monkey as a non-human primate model of human brain development and disease, and of the atlas to help to highlight the unique patterns of gene expression underlying human brain organization.