You might love your parents equally, but your brain doesn’t! Brain cells will give preference to the genes of one over the other, says a new study published in the journal Neuron.
Regardless of whom you prefer among your parents, your brain makes its own choice! Its cells does not treat the two sets of DNA (one inherited from the mother, and the other from the father) in the same manner. Rather, they will sometimes activate one, preferring it over the other, says a team of scientists from University of Utah School of Medicine.
You might fight for gender equality all you want—but the researchers have found marked inequality in areas of the mouse brain: 85% of genes in these regions will preferentially activate maternal or paternal gene copies for newborns, and this is followed by the equal activation of both copies ten days later, with the exception of 10% of the genes. This occurrence is not limited to the brain, or to the mouse, for that matter: the researchers explain that other parts of the body also show this disparity, and this also happens in humans.
The new findings might help scientists investigate brain disorders, says senior author Christopher Gregg, because risk factors for mental illness were among the genes involved in this unconventional mode of regulation. For instance, in humans, one of the genes displaying preferential expression in several areas of the brain is one associated with autism and intellectual disability. Further investigation shows that many other genes linked with conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Huntington’s Disease are regulated in this way.
Gregg explains that this genetic imbalance could be playing a role in disease vulnerabilities. This is because a gene existing in two copies is a shield, as one can always do the job if the other is defective, while having only one gene copy activated could mean the healthy one is kept silent, thus resulting in disruptions in cells, potentially leading to diseases.
This might not altogether be bad, though. The researchers mention that silencing one copy of genes might constitute a fine-tuning process that would occur at specific times in the life cycle of an organism.
“Our new findings reveal a new landscape of diverse effects that shape the expression of maternal and paternal gene copies in the brain according to age, brain region, and tissue type,” says Gregg. “The implication is a new view of genetics, one that starts up close.”