UCI researchers: Human brains not that dissimilar

A group of UC Irvine scientists have contributed to an international study that could help researchers develop medicines for brain conditions.

After studying two-and-a-half male human brains, the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science and the UCI team found evidence that human brains may be more similar to each other than they are dissimilar, despite differences in personalities and talents among individuals.

"The strength of this study is not the number of human brains we looked at, but the different parts of the brain in one or two people," said Marquis Vawter, research associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at UCI.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly had Vawter's first name as Marcus. It is Marquis.

If they find that genes in more brains are similar, it may be easier for doctors to develop medicines for conditions like Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease, he said.

"I'm optimistic that researchers can use this and save themselves a lot of time and money," Vawter said.

The examined brains showed no striking dissimilarities, he said. The research found that human brains have similar genetic outlines and have huge biochemical complexity, based upon the measurement of thousands of different molecules in the brain.

Vawter said that 84% of the brains' genes were expressed, or "turned on," leading them to create specific functional products like proteins and ribonucleic acid. These turned-on genes are in specific areas of the brain and are used for different brain functions, like visual perception, problem solving and planning.

Research found that when the two-and-a-half studied brains were taken apart, there was a consistent pattern of turned-on genes between the brains.

He said this serves as preliminary evidence that brain expression is similar between individuals, but those findings could change as more brains are analyzed, especially because no female brains were tested in the preliminary study.

"The amount of expression is going to be the dramatic variable that is different between people," he said.

A 3D map of the human brain — the first of its kind — showing this data is shown in the Allen Human Brain Atlas, which can be viewed at brain-map.org.


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