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Nat Neurosci. 2008 Nov;11(11):1271-82. doi: 10.1038/nn.2207. Epub 2008 Oct 12.

Functional organization of the transcriptome in human brain.

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  • 1Interdepartmental Program for Neuroscience, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.


The enormous complexity of the human brain ultimately derives from a finite set of molecular instructions encoded in the human genome. These instructions can be directly studied by exploring the organization of the brain's transcriptome through systematic analysis of gene coexpression relationships. We analyzed gene coexpression relationships in microarray data generated from specific human brain regions and identified modules of coexpressed genes that correspond to neurons, oligodendrocytes, astrocytes and microglia. These modules provide an initial description of the transcriptional programs that distinguish the major cell classes of the human brain and indicate that cell type-specific information can be obtained from whole brain tissue without isolating homogeneous populations of cells. Other modules corresponded to additional cell types, organelles, synaptic function, gender differences and the subventricular neurogenic niche. We found that subventricular zone astrocytes, which are thought to function as neural stem cells in adults, have a distinct gene expression pattern relative to protoplasmic astrocytes. Our findings provide a new foundation for neurogenetic inquiries by revealing a robust and previously unrecognized organization to the human brain transcriptome.

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