The research team say the discovery will allow scientists to study the process of neurogenesis (the birth of brain cells) and could further our understanding of brain development in humans.
The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, discovered that the N1-Src gene is a key component of the process by which neural stem cells are programmed to become neurons.
The team at York designed short pieces of modified DNA to knockdown the N1-Src gene and prevent it from being expressed in tadpoles.
Regulates cell growth
The Src gene encodes an enzyme that regulates cell growth throughout the body, but in the brain the N1-Src variant is most active during development.
N1-Src is only present in organisms with complex nervous systems, and is evolutionarily conserved from fish to humans.
Previous research implicated N1-Src in later stages of brain development when neurons are forming connections, but this new study suggests an earlier more fundamental role.
The research was led by Dr Gareth Evans and Dr Harry Isaacs from the University of York’s Department of Biology.
Sheds light on brain development
Dr Evans said: “By preventing this gene from being expressed we found that neurons that usually appear in tadpoles as they develop a nervous system are absent.
“We predict that without N1-Src you wouldn’t have a functional nervous system.
“The key is to now determine the mechanism for how N1-Src is working, which we suspect involves the switching on of essential brain-specific genes.
“Other genes that regulate neurogenesis have been identified in human developmental disorders, such as learning disabilities. Therefore, our work on N1-Src might shed light on healthy and abnormal brain development.”
The study was funded by PhD studentships from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
University of York