The brain is the body’s most protected organ and is surrounded by a complex and nearly impenetrable barrier of specialized blood vessels. While this unique anatomical setup protects the brain from external invaders, it also makes it difficult for researchers to examine how specific genes are expressed and how such changes in gene expression lead to diseases.
As per a recently published study in Nature Biotechnology, scientists at Rice University have developed a non-invasive method to monitor genomics of the brain, making it easier to study brain development, cognitive functions, and neurological diseases.
Rice bioengineer Jerzy Szablowski and his team have developed a unique class of molecules known as Released Activity Markers (RMAs) that can be used for measuring gene expression in the brain through a simple blood test.
“If one were to study the gene expression in the brain, they would usually have to wait for autopsy analysis. There are some more modern neuroimaging techniques that can do this, but they lack the sensitivity and specificity to monitor changes in specific cell types.
With the RMA platform, we can introduce a synthetic gene expression reporter into the brain that generates a protein capable of passing through the blood-brain barrier. Then, with a simple blood test, we can measure changes in the expression of a gene of interest,” Szablowski explained.
Jerzy Szablowski, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering
Szablowski initially considered the possibility of a synthetic gene expression reporter after observing that the brain would rapidly eliminate antibody therapy injections.
“Whenever these injections were done, the antibodies simply disappeared—they did not stay in the brain long enough for effective therapy,” he explained. “But we thought the failure of the antibody therapies could be turned to our advantage. What if we take the part of the antibody responsible for this leakage and bind it to a protein that would be easily detectable? We could then see where, when, and how much of a certain gene was being expressed in the brain.”
<... The journal reference is Lee, S. et al. (2024). Engineered serum markers for non-invasive monitoring of gene expression in the brain. Nature Biotechnology. doi.org/10.1038/s41587-023-02087-x. ...