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On expression patterns and developmental origin of human brain regions

Lior Kirsch
Gal Chechik
PLoS Computational Biology (2016)


Anatomical substructures of the human brain have characteristic cell-types, connectivity and local circuitry, which are reflected in area-specific transcriptome signatures, but the principles governing area-specific transcription and their relation to brain development are still being studied. In adult rodents, areal transcriptome patterns agree with the embryonic origin of brain regions, but the processes and genes that preserve an embryonic signature in regional expression profiles were not quantified. Furthermore, it is not clear how embryonic-origin signatures of adult-brain expression interplay with changes in expression patterns during development. Here we first quantify which genes have regional expression-patterns related to the developmental origin of brain regions, using genome-wide mRNA expression from post-mortem adult human brains. We find that almost all human genes (92%) exhibit an expression pattern that agrees with developmental brain-region ontology, but that this agreement changes at multiple phases during development. Agreement is particularly strong in neuron-specific genes, but also in genes that are not spatially correlated with neuron-specific or glia-specific markers. Surprisingly, agreement is also stronger in early-evolved genes. We further find that pairs of similar genes having high agreement to developmental region ontology tend to be more strongly correlated or anti-correlated, and that the strength of spatial correlation changes more strongly in gene pairs with stronger embryonic signatures. These results suggest that transcription regulation of most genes in the adult human brain is spatially tuned in a way that changes through life, but in agreement with development-determined brain regions.

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