Gene Map of Human Brains May Lead to New Drugs, Scientists Say

Scientists have created a $55 million interactive map that shows where genes are activated in the human brain, an aid to researchers developing treatments for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and autism.

The Allen Institute for Brain Science, based in Seattle, mapped two brains to create the system, said Allan Jones, the chief executive officer, in a telephone interview. About 82 percent of human genes are expressed in the organ, according to the institute. The map, free to researchers, identifies about 100 million data points and 1,000 anatomical sites in the organ.

Understanding how the genome is triggered may help scientists discover the basis for some brain disorders, Jones said. If autism researchers, for instance, discover a common abnormality in the DNA of people with the disorder, the map would help them determine if the gene is activated in the brain and where, creating a treatment target, he said.

“This might immediately point you not only to form good hypotheses but novel ones,” Jones said.

The Allen Institute was founded in 2003 by Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft Corp.

Ultimately, the facility will run at least 10 brains through the process, Jones said. The map was developed using a variety of technologies, including magnetic resonance imaging and a variation of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging. DTI tracks the movement of water molecules, allowing scientists to delineate nerve fibers that connect sections of the brain.

In 2006, the institute mapped a mouse brain in 2006 and made that data freely available.

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