Epigenetic Mechanisms Linking Cerebral Cortical Cell Types to Gene Expression and Connectivity

2017 Scientific Innovations Award
Edward Callaway, Ph.D.
Systems Neurobiology Laboratories
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Brain circuits develop through an interaction between genetics and the environment. Previous studies have shown that there are at least two distinct phases in brain development. During a first genetically determined stage, gene expression dictates the emergence of cell types and their specific connections to establish a basic scaffold. Sensory experience and interactions with the environment then further shape and refine these connections. Nevertheless, the postnatal or adolescent onset of brain circuit disorders including schizophrenia and autism that have predisposing genetic factors, argue that there is in fact a more complex and intimate interplay between genetics and the environment. Here we propose to test hypotheses emerging from recent observations suggesting specific brain circuits and epigenetic mechanisms that might be involved in these processes. These foundational studies would provide a framework for detailed investigations of the underlying mechanisms and how they can go wrong in neurodevelopmental disorders.