North Texas Researchers Identify More Than 100 Genes Linked To Human Memory | KERA News

North Texas Researchers Identify More Than 100 Genes Linked To Human Memory

Jun 14, 2017

Researchers in North Texas have identified more than 100 genes linked to memory in the human brain. 

Dr. Genevieve Konopka of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas talks about her team's research — and how it could help develop new therapies for patients who have epilepsy or memory disorders. 

Interview Highlights: 

...on the significance of this research: "Until we had identified these genes, there were very few, at least in humans, that had been known to be directly associated with memory. There are many that we have identified, say in animal models or for our patients who have specific disorders where genes are disrupted. But in this case, many of them we know very little about what they're doing, and they haven't been studied in the brain at all. So, this is very exciting as a scientist because now there [are] so many different ways that we can study these particular genes.

Dr. Genevieve Konopka.
Credit UT Southwestern Medical Center

"One of the challenges in studying the human brain and human brain disorders is that it's really difficult to access the tissue. So, we can do a number of things like put patients in scanners and look at their brain activity. But, to get at the molecular level, at the genetic level, our tools are very limited, and so this is one of the first studies that's really been able to dig down and identify these specific genes." 

...on the possibilities this research could lead to: "[We think] it'll allow us to develop new therapies for these patients who have epilepsy or with patients who have specific memory disorders. Right now, the treatments are very limited and ineffective in many individuals. If we have newly identified molecular mechanisms, we can take that information and put it into various pipelines for developing new drugs and new drug targets. We think that this will open up a lot of new avenues of research."

...on why the brain remains so hard to understand: "It's a lot more complicated that I think anyone appreciated — for a long time. Even as an eager undergraduate many, many years ago, we thought 'Well, if we knew all of the genes in human genome, that would give us insight.' Or 'if we could just identify what are the cell types that are in the brain, maybe that would give us insight.' And now, we realize in each individual cell in each part of the brain during any particular behavior, things are dynamic. And so it's infinitely more complicated than I think anyone could have appreciated."

Dr. Genevieve Konopka is an assistant professor of neuroscience with the O’Donnell Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.