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A Novel Approach to Measuring Gene Activity in the Brain
Image of a human with the brain highlighted and bright lights emerging from the head

The brain is a complex organ that controls motor skills, thought, emotions, and memory. Monitoring gene activity in the brain can help scientists understand how the brain works and can give insight into neurological disorders. There are several non-invasive methods to monitor gene activity in the brain, including the use of MRIs and ultrasound imaging. However, these methods may have difficulty imaging certain regions of the brain and they can be expensive. To overcome these challenges, researchers funded by the Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program’s New Innovator Award developed an approach that enables researchers to monitor gene activity in the brain by measuring markers in the blood. 

In their novel approach, Dr. Jerzy Szablowski and colleagues engineered proteins, called released markers of activity (RMA) reporters, that can cross two important biological barriers. First, the reporters can be secreted from brain cells into the surrounding fluid; second, the reporters are able to enter the bloodstream after crossing the blood-brain barrier, a protective layer of cells that controls what substances can enter and leave the brain. To apply their method, the researchers labeled targeted sites in mouse brains with the reporter proteins. The researchers then successfully monitored gene activity in the mouse brains by measuring the level of the reporter genes in the blood. If validated in humans, this inexpensive, noninvasive approach could allow researchers to monitor long-term changes in gene activity in brain disorders without the use of scanners.


Engineered serum markers for non-invasive monitoring of gene expression on the brain. S. Lee, S. Nouraein, J.J. Kwon, Z. Huang, J.A. Wojick, B. Xia, G. Corder, J.O. Szablowski. Nat Biotechnol. 2024 Jan 10: epub.

This page last reviewed on June 13, 2024