For the first time, scientists have figured out how to view changes to gene activity in living brains. The brain scan technique may aid discoveries in how Alzheimer’s treatments, schizophrenia, and other neurological disorders work. And not just that: this approach may also help scientists evaluate whether drugs work the way they’re supposed to.
The researchers focused on molecules that regulate how tightly DNA wraps around the proteins that serve as structural units for our genetic material. Think of the DNA as string and these proteins as a spool; how tightly or loosely the string is wound around the spool has effects on how DNA expresses itself. These molecules, called histone deacetylases, are part of what determines how tightly the DNA is wound. For instance, in Alzheimer’s disease, high levels of these histone deacetylases (HDACs for short) have been found in the parts of the brain that regulates memory.
TODAY’S RESULTS ARE A BIG STEP FORWARD FOR EPIGENETICS
To get a better sense of how these HDACs work, scientists led by Hsiao-Ying Wey and Tonya Gilbert at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Harvard Medical School spent seven years developing the chemical compound described today in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
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