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Brain cells’ DNA differs

Mutations give unique genetic makeup to neighboring neurons

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2:00pm, October 1, 2015
Brain mosaic artwork

IN THE MIX  The brain is a mosaic of cells, as illustrated in this artwork. A recent study suggests that individual neurons all operate from different genetic blueprints. 

Nerve cells in the brain don’t all work from the same genetic blueprint. Individual neurons within a person’s skull harbor over a thousand distinct DNA mutations, scientists report in the Oct. 2 Science.

The study “shows something fascinating — every neuron probably has a unique genome,” says neuroscientist Mike McConnell of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. That variation may have important implications for how the brain grows and functions normally, and for when problems arise. “We’re no longer saying, ‘Do neurons have different genomes?’” McConnell says. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s figure out how that matters.’”

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