Brain Codes

The structure of DNA seems, with hindsight, to have led inexorably to the human genome project. Perhaps because we are captivated by the structural beauty of the double helix, we often think of the code as static but of course this is not the case. The code is a language and like all living languages, meaning is encoded in dynamic symbols. The readers and writers of the stable DNA code can now be studied genome-wide in the human brain. Through the development of powerful new tools we can access the inter-twined dynamics of gene expression and the interacting chromatin proteins that control this key aspect of the language of life.

This edition of neuroDEVELOPMENTS is focused on two recent papers showing the extraordinary power that flows from defining the chromatin states of the developing and adult brain. One of these is formally part of a cooperative program, PsychENCODE, focused on discovering the DNA elements that regulate gene function in the brain. The other, from the laboratory of one of our Board members, dissects chromatin change in the developing human cerebral cortex. Both these papers illustrate the extraordinary cooperation between researchers that is revealing the dynamics of chromatin change in the nervous system.

Scientific progress is often abruptly accelerated by a technical advance. I can remember the excitement on first reading Fred Sanger’s report of the nucleic acid sequence of the bacterial virus PhiX174. Now that we had genetic sequence, the world had been transformed. The last decades have seen several explosions in our understanding of DNA, RNA and the nuclear proteins that comprise chromatin. The newest tools allow systematic analysis of the specialized proteins that control gene function in the developing and adult brain. They promise a future where we have many human epigenomes to explore as we seek fluency in the dialects that bring our nervous system into being. For a range of perspectives on this topic, please read the comments from the Board. Thanks to all the Board members for their contributions. Thanks to the Lieber and Maltz families for their support of this project. And thanks to you for your interest.

-Ron McKay, PhD, Chief Editor
Lieber Institute for Brain Development

-Venkata S. Mattay, MD
Managing Editor

-Michele Solis, PhD
Science Writer



Editorial Board

Fred ‘Rusty’ Gage, PhD
President, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Daniel Geschwind, MD, PhD
Professor, UCLA School of Medicine

Yukiko Gotoh, PhD
Professor, University of Tokyo

Elizabeth Grove, PhD
Professor, University of Chicago

Jürgen Knoblich, PhD
Interim Scientific Director, Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Arnold Kriegstein, MD
Professor, UCSF

Pat Levitt, PhD
Professor, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Mu-Ming Poo, PhD
Director, Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences

John Rubenstein, MD, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry, UCSF

Nenad Sestan, MD, PhD
Professor, Yale University

Chris Walsh, MD, PhD
Chief, Division of Genetics & Genomics, Boston Children’s Hospital

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