Gene expression imaging could lead to new treatments for brain disorders

The image you see here represents a first for scientists and researchers and could usher in a new era for treating some brain disorders. The image is the first time that the visualization of epigenetic activity has been performed in a living human brain. The researchers behind the technology hope that it may one day help to figure out the role epigenetics plays in certain brain disorders.

The ultimate goal of the research is to learn how epigenetics figures into disorders like Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and depression and to help design drugs to treat the conditions. Epigenetics is a word that is unfamiliar to the vast majority of readers and has to do with gene expression, which is to say if a particular gene is turned on or off in the human brain.

Whether specific genes are on or off is linked to all sorts of diseases and disorders in humans. "There's this fascinating disconnect between the genes you're given through inheritance from your parents and how those interact in your life to lead to all sorts of things, one of which is disease," explained Jacob Hooker, a radiologist at Harvard Medical School and an author on the new imaging study.

The scientists say that whether these genes are on or off can mean the person the genes are part of either has a particular disease or is protected from it. The scientists were able to perform their imaging feat by imaging the density of a type of enzyme called histone deacetylases (HDACs) know to regulate gene expression in the human body and the enzyme is thought to have an effect in brain function. The team developed a radioactive imaging agent called Martinostat that binds with HDACs to make them visible in a PET scan. The procedure was first tested in animals, and this is the first human test. Red sections of the image are the highest concentrations of HDACs and blue is the lowest. The study scanned 90 healthy adults.

SOURCE: Motherboard