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Researchers investigate fruit flies as a step toward understanding the human brain

Researchers have been trying to map out the brain's complex neural circuits to understand how diseases like Parkinson’s disrupt healthy brain communication, in hopes of designing better therapies.

That, obviously, is not easy. So a Stanford research team led by biologist Liqun Luo, PhD, and bioengineer and physicist Stephen Quake, PhD, are instead studying fruit fly brains — yes, those pesky bugs that fly around your bananas.

Specifically, they have mapped out a blueprint for the fruit fly’s olfactory neurons — identifying how specific gene and protein activity correlates with the circuitry of different neuronal cell types. The researchers focused on a fruit fly’s sense of smell because the function, physiology and anatomy of its olfactory system are well known, making it a simple and ideal model for their research.

They measured the gene expression profiles using a single-cell sequencing technology developed for mice and human cell types, which they modified to work for the smaller and simpler fruit fly cells.

The team determined different types of neurons express genes differently during development, but gene expression between the neuron types becomes indistinguishable as the flies mature, as recently reported in Cell.

“Once the brain is wired up, the fly doesn’t need to express those genes that help them in choosing the connection partners,” said first author and Stanford biology postdoc Hongjie Li, PhD, in a recent Stanford news release. “So there is less gene expression in the adult flies.”

The researchers are a long way from using their technique to map the human brain, but they aren't daunted by the challenge. “By further developing this approach, we hope to one day reverse-engineer and perhaps even repair defective circuitry in the human brain,” Li said in the release.

Previously: Stanford researchers map brain circuitry affected by Parkinson’s diseaseMAP-ing the brain: Technology offers new insight on how the brain functions and Fruit flies fly while scalped, exposing their brain cells for science
Photo by nuzree

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