In this three-hour primer on neurogenetics, we develop students' knowledge of how genes and epigenetic mechanisms influence development and function of the human brain. The tutorial will be particularly useful for students reading neuroscience and psychology.
We begin with an introduction to the chemical nature and function of DNA and genes, covering transcription, translation and the control of gene expression, with a focus on post-translational protein modification and RNA splicing. We then take students beyond simple 'a gene for this and a gene for that' hypotheses, illustrating the large range of internal and external influences on gene activity, with examples from proteomics and epigenetics. The above mechanisms are exemplified using computer-based animations that students will access during the tutorial. After a break, we then turn our attention to the genetics of brain development, investigating the functions of gene families such as Hox and Pax, and the influence of single genes such as ASPM and Notch. We explore how genes are linked to cognitive function and we delve into the world of cognitive neuroepigenetics, elucidating the complex relationship between genes, behaviour and environment. We also introduce students to emerging concepts in the field of epitranscriptomics, thinking about how activity-induced RNA modifications and RNA editing in the brain can influence the function of protein-coding genes and noncoding regulatory RNAs, to in turn shape cognitive functions such as learning and memory via molecular mechanisms underpinning experience-dependent plasticity. We examine why genes linked to a particular behaviour - language, for example - are not necessarily unique to that behaviour. The tutorial concludes with an examination of how gene mutation, copy number variation, epigenetic change and retrotransposon activity can all be linked to psychiatric and neurological conditions. Thus the roles of genes such as clusterin and picalm in Alzheimer's disease will be addressed, as will the roles of DISC1 and COMT. And then we will push things to a different level!
For further information and a programme, please email Dr Guy Sutton at the address in the footer below.