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Baby brains undergo dramatic changes in utero

Gene activity regulator shifts widely in normal development, study suggests

4:00pm, February 3, 2015

The developing brain undergoes rapid and tightly coordinated changes in a molecular process known to help regulate gene activity, a new study shows.

Dramatic changes in DNA methylation, a process that usually quashes activity of nearby genes, occur during the first six months of brain development, researchers report February 3 in Genome Research. Geneticist Jonathan Mill of the University of Exeter in England and colleagues made the discovery by examining the brains of 179 fetuses. Mill and colleagues strongly suspect that the DNA methylation changes they observed alter gene activity. 

Some early DNA methylation changes could be early indicators of brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, which appear long after birth, says Rena Li, a neurobiologist at the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota, Fla., who was not involved in the research.

DNA methylation

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