UA study: Humans, mice, and flies share common factor in brain development

It's all in the genes, researchers say

UA study: Humans, mice, and flies share common factor in brain development
University of Arizona research reveals new insights on animal and human brain development. (Source: Associated Press)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Your brain is so “fly,” according to research conducted at the University of Arizona.

The study found humans, mice, and flies share the same fundamental genetic mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of brain areas involved in attention and movement control.

The research sheds new light on how humans evolved, connecting seemingly unrelated organisms. More importantly, the UA says the findings could help scientists understand small changes in genes and brain circuits that can lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety and autism.

Scientists have known about similarities in the nervous systems of animals and people for centuries. Recently, scientists asked whether such similarities are due to corresponding genetic programs from a common ancestor of vertebrates and invertebrates millions of years old.

“The crucial question scientists are trying to answer is: Did the brains in the animal kingdom evolve from a common ancestor?” said Nicholas Strausfeld, Regents Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Arizona. “Or, did brains evolve independently in different lineages of animals?”

The study involved UA researchers, along with King’s College London, University of Leuven and Leibniz Institute DSMZ.

“Our research indicates that the way the brain’s circuits are put in place is the same in humans, flies and mice,” said Frank Hirth of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. “The findings indicate that the evolution of their very different brains can be traced back to a single ancestral brain more than a half billion years ago.”

Researchers focused on areas of the brain known as the deutocerebral-tritocerebral boundary, or DTB, in flies and the midbrain-hindbrain boundary, or MHB, in vertebrates including humans.

“For many years researchers have been trying to find the mechanistic basis underlying behavior,” Hirth said. “We have discovered a crucial part of the jigsaw puzzle by identifying these basic gene regulatory mechanisms required for midbrain circuit formation and function. If we can understand these very small, very basic building blocks, how they form and function, this will help find answers to what happens when things go wrong at a genetic level to cause these disorders.”

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