Mapping the adult mouse brain using embryonic gene expression

2013

Challenge

Norepinephrine-producing neurons in the brain comprise a diverse population of cells that differ in their connectivity, function, and response to disease and environmental toxins. These neurons have previously been categorized into several groups on the basis of their location within the adult mouse brain, but the anatomical classification reveals little about the origins of this diversity. Understanding where these neurons originate from would provide insight into how their differentiated expression might be manipulated in therapeutic interventions.

Advance

IRP researchers led by Patricia Jensen, Ph.D., used genetically engineered mice to define subpopulations of norepinephrine neurons based on differences in embryonic gene expression. The team then traced the subpopulations in the adult mouse brain to determine what connections they make with other parts of the nervous system, revealing previously unknown variation among norepinephrine neurons.

Impact

This work uncovered a novel molecular framework for norepinephrine neurons, which may one day enable the functional manipulation of individual circuits in complex behavioral and physiological processes including arousal, attention, mood, memory, appetite, and homeostasis.

Publications

Robertson S, Plummer NW, de Marchena J, Jensen P. (2013). Developmental origins of central norepinephrine neuron diversity. Nat Neurosci. 16(8):1016-23. doi: 10.1038/nn.3458.