Scientists draw comparisons in animal model for studying human nervous system


Lifestyle, Health and Wellbeing

Scientists compare human brain neurons with crabs to validate RNA sequencing.

The study was published in the journal -- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Photo: ANI)

Washington: While we can count on crab as one of the tastiest delicacies of the seafood, its nervous system could help scientists learn what causes single neurons in the human brain to become out of whack, says a recent study.

This can contribute to the development of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's disease, adds the study, which was published in the journal -- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers worked to validate a popular research method called RNA sequencing used to identify unknown neurons in the brain and sort them into various subtypes.

Neurons are a basic element of all animal nervous systems, allowing scientists to draw comparisons in animal models like crabs when studying the human nervous system. According to David Schulz, a professor of biological sciences at the College of Arts and Science, "There are billions of neurons in the human brain, yet we still don't know how many distinct types there are. We are finally at a technological point where we can ask the incredibly complex question -- what are the brain's building blocks?"

Prof Schulz believes the answer to that question will drive everything "we know about diseases in the brain for the next 50 to 100 years." However, in order to answer that question, he said, we must first know how neurons are different from one another, and how healthy neurons differ from diseased ones. Using a crab's nervous system as a model, the researchers compared and validated the results of previous human RNA sequencing methods.

Since crabs have already identifiable subtypes of neurons, the researchers knew what they were looking for, so they were able to work backwards from the published results and use the RNA sequencing method to validate those findings. Prof Schulz said he was both surprised and reassured by what they found.

"If you don't know what you are looking for in the complex human brain, then early efforts using RNA sequencing are going to need some refinement before we can answer this fundamental question," added Prof Schulz.

Prof Schulz said: "This study is one of those refinements. Until we can understand each component, we can't expect to take the brain apart and put it back together again in order to figure out how it works."